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Betty 

Friedan The 

Feminine 

Mystique 


Changed the world so comprehensively that 
it's hard to remember how much change was 
called for." —n> iv yokh times book kfvify. 

With an introduction by 

Anna Ouindlen 



Further praise for The Feminine 
Mystique 


“Written with a passionate drive...it will leave you with some 
haunting facts as well as a few hair-raising stories. That The 
Feminine Mystique is at the same time a scholarly work, appropriate 
for serious study, only adds to its usefulness.” 

—Lillian Smith, Saturday Review 


“A highly readable, provocative book.” 

—Lucy Freeman, New York Times Book Review 


“The most important book of the twentieth century is The Feminine 
Mystique. Betty Friedan is to women what Martin Luther King, Jr., 
was to blacks.” 

—Barbara Seaman, author of Free and Female 


“The Feminine Mystique stated the trouble with women so clearly 
that every woman could recognize herself in the diagnosis.... Things 
are different between men and women because we now have words 
for the trouble. Betty gave them to us.” 

—Caroline Bird, author of Lives of Our Own 



The Feminine Mystique 



Betty Friedan 



The Feminine Mystique 


W. W. NORTON & COMPANY 
New York London 



Copyright© 1997, 1991, 1974, 1963 by Betty Friedan 
Introduction by Anna Quindlen copyright © 2001 by Anna Quindlen 
First published as a Norton paperback 2001 

All rights reserved 

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this 
book, write to 

Permissions, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, 

New York, NY 10110. 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Friedan, Betty. 

The feminine mystique/by Betty Friedan; with a new introduction, 
p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references. 

ISBN: 978-0-393-33932-1 

1. Feminism—United States. 2. Women—United States—Social 
conditions. 3. 

Women—Psychology. I. Title. 

HQ1426.F844 1997 
305.42’0973—DC21 

97-8877 

CIP 


W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 

500 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10110 
www.wwnorton.com 


W. W. Norton & Company Ltd. 

Castle House, 75/76 Wells Street, London WIT 3QT 



For all the new women, 
and the new men 



Contents 


Introduction by Anna Quindlen 
Metamorphosis: Two Generations Later 

Introduction to the Tenth Anniversary 

Edition 

Preface and Acknowledgments 

1 The Problem That Has No Name 

2 The Happy Housewife Heroine 

3 The Crisis in Woman’s Identity 

4 The Passionate Journey 

5 The Sexual Solipsism of Sigmund Freud 

6 The Functional Freeze, the Feminine 

Protest, and Margaret Mead 

7 The Sex-Directed Educators 

8 The Mistaken Choice 

9 The Sexual Sell 

10 Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time 


















Available 


11 The Sex-Seekers 

12 Progressive Dehumanization: The 

Comfortable Concentration Camp 

13 The Forfeited Self 

14 A New Life Plan for Women 


Epilogue 

Notes 

Reading Group Guide 











Introduction 
Anna Quindlen 


]VIy mother is reading a paperback book at the kitchen table. This is 
odd. My mother is not a great reader, and usually she reads only 
before bed, hardcover books that come from the Book-of-the-Month 
Club, novels by Taylor Caldwell and Daphne du Maurier and Mary 
Stewart. But she is hunched over this paperback, frowning, twin 
divots between her dark brows. I cannot remember many of the 
specific details of my childhood, but I remember this moment well. I 
am twelve. 

This is how I first encountered Betty Friedan’s The Feminine 
Mystique. When I read the book myself, eight years later, as an 
assignment for a women’s studies class at Barnard, I immediately 
understand why my mother had become so engrossed that she found 
herself reading in the place usually reserved for cooking. I don’t 
believe she was particularly enthralled by Friedan’s systematic 
evisceration of the theories of Sigmund Freud, or the prescient 
indictment of American consumerism 

I think it was probably the notion of seeing her own life there in 
the pages of that book, the endless, thankless cycle of dishes and 
vacuuming and meals and her husband’s ironing and her children’s 
laundry. “I begin to feel I have no personality,” one woman told 
Friedan. “I’m a server of food and a putter-on of pants and a 



bedmaker, somebody who can be called on when you want 
something. But who am I?” 

“Who am I?” my mother must have been asking herself at the table 
in the kitchen, and with her millions of others who would pore over 
this painstakingly reported, fiercely opinionated book. My mother 
had everything a woman after World War II was told she could want, 
told by the magazines and the movies and the television commercials: 
a husband with a good job, five healthy children, a lovely home in the 
suburbs, a patio and a powder room. But in the drawer of her bureau 
she kept a small portfolio of the drawings she had done in high 
school, the pages growing yellower year by year. My bag lunches for 
school sometimes included a hard-boiled egg, and on its shell she 
would paint in watercolors, the face of a princess, a seaside scene. I 
cracked those eggs without thinking twice. 

It has been almost forty years since The Feminine Mystique was 
first published in 1963, and since then so much has changed, and too 
little, too, so that rereading the book now feels both revolutionary 
and utterly contemporary. It changed my life. I am far from alone in 
this. Susan Brownmiller says the same in the opening pages of her 
memoir of the women’s movement. It changed Friedan’s life, too. She 
became a celebrity, a pariah, a standard bearer, a target. She founded 
the National Organization for Women and her name became 
synonymous with the Equal Rights Amendment and late-twentieth- 
century feminism. 

And it changed the lives of millions upon millions of other women 
who jettisoned empty hours of endless housework and found work, 
and meaning, outside of raising their children and feeding their 
husbands. Out of Friedan’s argument that women had been coaxed 
into selling out their intellect and their ambitions for the paltry price 
of a new washing machine—“A baked potato is not as big as the 
world,” she noted puckishly of their stunted aspirations—came a 
great wave of change in which women demanded equality and parity 
under the law and in the workplace. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ruth 
Bader Ginsburg, girls in Little League, women rabbis: it is no 
exaggeration to say that The Feminine Mystique set the stage for 
them all. 

What Friedan gave to the world was “the problem that has no 
name.” She not only named it but dissected it. The advances of 
science, the development of labor-saving appliances, the 
development of the suburbs: all had come together to offer women in 



the 1950s a life their mothers had scarcely dreamed of, free from 
rampant disease, onerous drudgery, noxious city streets. But the green 
lawns and big corner lots were isolating, the housework seemed to 
expand to fill the time available, and polio and smallpox were 
replaced by depression and alcoholism. All that was covered up in a 
kitchen conspiracy of denial. “If a woman had a problem in the 
1950’s and 1960’s, she knew that something must be wrong with her 
marriage, or with herself,” Friedan wrote, based on both her 
reporting and her own experience. 

This was preposterous, she argued. Instead the problem was with 
the mystique of waxed floors and perfectly applied lipstick. She 
reinforced her sense of what was wrong with studies showing 
diminished ambitions for students at women’s colleges like Vassar 
and Smith, increasing psychological treatment for young mothers in 
the suburbs, lower ages of marriage and childbirth as the mystique 
became the only goal in the lives of women. Those who think of the 
book as solely a feminist manifesto ought to revisit its pages to get a 
sense of the magnitude of the research and reporting Friedan 
undertook. 

It is an ambitious book in that way, a book wary of those many 
who will want to attack both the messenger and the message, a book 
carefully marshaling and buttressing its arguments. And it is an 
ambitious book in its scope, too. It might have been an important one 
simply on the basis of its early chapters detailing the vague malaise 
afflicting women who were thought to be a uniquely blessed and 
contented generation. But it is an enduring one because of the other 
related issues Friedan addresses. Her explication of the role of 
consumerism to reinforce American social strata is stunning, even 
now that we take the buying and the selling of ourselves for granted. 
In every great manifesto there are riveting moments of self- 
awareness. In The Feminine Mystique one of them is the rhetorical 
question “Why is it never said that the really crucial function, the 
really important role that women serve as housewives is to buy more 
things for the house.” 

At moments like those the reader must remind herself that this 
book was written well before the consumer movement, the anti-war 
movement, the movement toward a counterculture. It was prescient, 
and it continues to be so. For while the lives of women have changed 
radically in many ways since Friedan described a generation of 
educated housewives maniacally arranging the silverware and 



dressing to welcome their husbands home from work, the covert 
messages the culture sends to women today are still pernicious. So 
the chapters that describe the overinvestment of mothers in their 
children, “the cult of the child,” still resonate both with women who 
have chosen not to work outside the home and those who have, both 
of whom feel under cultural fire. And the description of children who 
never grow up might as well have been written yesterday. “Behind 
the senseless vandalism, the riots in Florida at spring vacation, the 
promiscuity, the rise in teenage venereal disease and illegitimate 
pregnancies, the alarming dropouts from high school and college, 
was this new passivity. For those bored, lazy, ‘gimme’ kids, ‘kicks 
was the only way to kill the monotony of vacant time.’” Forty years 
ago those words appeared. It seems scarcely possible. 

In those forty years The Feminine Mystique has sometimes been 
devalued. Friedan the author became inextricably intertwined with 
Friedan the public figure, the latter often identified with internecine 
squabbles with other feminist leaders and a combative public 
persona. In hindsight the shortcomings of the book become clear. Too 
much attention is paid to the role of institutions and publications in 
the reinforcement of female passivity, too little to the role of 
individual men who have enjoyed the services of a servant class and 
still resent its loss. Friedan’s own revisiting of the material in The 
Second Stage (1981) was not as rigorous or well-researched as The 
Feminine Mystique had been. While she attempted to make valid 
points about why some women have chosen to embrace childrearing 
and a domestic life, the revisionist message of this second book 
appeared to be an apologia for the ferocity of her first. 

Perhaps there also has come to be a certain feeling among the 
smug overachievers of the post -Mystique generation that time had 
passed, and passed the book by, that we had moved away from the 
primer into the advanced course in seizing control of our own lives. I 
plead guilty on this count. I expected to revisit this book as I would a 
period piece, interesting, worthy of notice and of homage, yet a little 
dated and obvious as well. The daughter of a quiet and contained 
housewife, I had become an opinion columnist in the onslaught of 
change that this book began, and I expected to be properly grateful. 
Which is to say, slightly condescending. 

As casually as I once cracked those painstakingly painted eggs as 
a girl, I cracked the spine of this book. And, as my mother had been, 
in a different world, at a different time, under hugely different 



circumstances, I was enrapt. Four decades later, millions of 
individual transformations later, there is still so much to learn from 
this book about how sex and home and work and norms are used to 
twist the lives of women into weird and unnatural shapes. It set off a 
social and political explosion, yet it also speaks to the incomplete 
rebuilding of the leveled landscape. “Giving a name to the problem 
that had no name was the necessary first step,” Friedan concludes in 
the epilogue. “But it wasn’t enough.” Much, much more was 
necessary to change our lives. But as a first step, this one is 
extraordinary. As a writer, I say, “Brava!” As a beneficiary of the 
greatest social revolution in twentieth-century America, the 
resurgence of feminism that began with The Feminine Mystique, I am 
obliged to add, “Many, many thanks.” 



Metamorphosis 
Two Generations Later 


A.s we approach a new century—and a new millennium—it’s the 
men who have to break through to a new way of thinking about 
themselves and society. Too bad the women can’t do it for them, or 
go much further without them. Because it’s awesome to consider how 
women have changed the very possibilities of our lives and are 
changing the values of every part of our society since we broke 
through the feminine mystique only two generations ago. But it can’t 
go on in terms of women alone. There’s a new urgency coming from 
the changing situation of men, threatening to women unless men break 
through. Will women be forced to retreat from their empowered 
personhood, or will they join with men again in some new vision of 
human possibility, changing the man’s world which they fought so 
hard to enter? 

Consider the terms of women’s new empowerment, the startling 
changes since that time I wrote about, only three decades ago, when 
women were defined only in sexual relation to men—man’s wife, sex 
object, mother, housewife—and never as persons defining 
themselves by their own actions in society. That image, which I 
called “the feminine mystique,” was so pervasive, coming at us from 
the women’s magazines, the movies, the television commercials, all 
the mass media and the textbooks of psychology and sociology, that 



each woman thought she was alone, it was her personal guilt, if she 
didn’t have an orgasm waxing the family-room floor. No matter how 
much she had wanted that husband, those children, that split-level 
suburban house and all the appliances thereof, which were supposed 
to be the limits of women’s dreams in those years after World War II, 
she sometimes felt a longing for something more. 

I called it “the problem that had no name” because women were 
blamed then for a lot of problems—not getting the kitchen sink white 
enough, not pressing the husband’s shirt smooth enough, the 
children’s bedwetting, the husband’s ulcers, their own lack of 
orgasm. But there was no name for a problem that had nothing to do 
with husband, children, home, sex—the problem I heard from so 
many women after I served my own time as a suburban housewife, 
fired from a newspaper job for being pregnant, guilty anyway as 
women were made to feel then for working outside the home, that 
they were undermining their husband’s masculinity and their own 
femininity and neglecting their children. I was not quite able to 
suppress the writing itch, so, like secret drinking in the morning 
because no other mommy in my suburban world “worked,” I 
freelanced for women’s magazines, writing articles about women and 
their children, breast feeding, natural childbirth, their homes and 
fashions. If I tried to write about a woman artist, a political concern, 
“American women won’t identify,” the editors would say. Those 
editors of women’s magazines were men. 

All the terms in every field and profession then were defined by 
men, who were virtually the only full professors, the law partners, 
the CEOs and company executives, the medical experts, the 
academicians, the hospital heads and clinic directors. There was no 
“woman’s vote” women voted as their husbands did. No pollster or 
political candidate talked about “women’s issues” women were not 
taken that seriously, women didn’t take themselves that seriously. 
Abortion was not a word printed in newspapers; it was a sleazy 
crime that shamed and terrified and often killed women, and whose 
practitioners could go to jail. It was only after we broke through the 
feminine mystique and said women are people , no more no less, and 
therefore demanded our human right to participate in the mainstream 
of society, to equal opportunity to earn and be trained and have our 
own voice in the big decisions of our destiny, that the problems of 
women themselves became visible, and women began to take their 
own experience seriously. 



Consider, in the summer of 1996, that the women athletes taking 
the Olympic medals—from tennis, track and field, to soccer, 
basketball, kayak, mountainbike—in every possible competition, 
were virtually the main show, the target of prime-time television. In 
my growing up, or my daughter’s, there were no women playing in 
major sports—no serious athletic training for girls in schools, only 
boys—until the women’s movement demanded and won an end to sex 
discrimination in education, including athletic training, in Title 9 of 
the Civil Rights Act as Title 7 banned discrimination in employment 
—equal opportunity to work, and play, to the limit of one’s ability, 
for women and men. 

Consider in 1996 that the issue of abortion as women’s choice 
was the crucial issue splitting the Republican party. Long since the 
women’s movement declared the basic right of a woman to choose 
whether or when to have a child, long since the Supreme Court 
declared that right as inalienable as any right specified in the 
Constitution and Bill of Rights, as they were originally written of by 
and for the people that were men, long since the Democratic party 
committed itself to the right to choose, and long since the 
fundamentalist Religious Right has been fighting a vicious rearguard 
action, harassing and bombing abortion clinics. The Republican party 
won elections in the past inflaming fears and hate over the issue of 
abortion. In 1996 their platform’s demand for a constitutional 
amendment criminalizing abortion again, putting the fetus over the life 
of the woman, alienated many Republican women and men, a last 
desperate attempt to turn the clock back. As it became clear that 
women, now registered to vote in increasing majority over men, 
would elect the next president of the United States, not just choice but 
issues like family leave, the right to women not to be forced out of 
hospitals less than 48 hours after giving birth, the right of parents to 
take time off to take children to the dentist, or for a parent-teacher 
appointment became serious political business. 

While some media, ads, and movies may still try to define women 
only or mainly as sex objects, it’s no longer considered chic or even 
acceptable by much of America. Far from being unspeakable and 
invisible, sexual abuse of women and less overt forms of sexual 
harassment are now considered serious enough crimes to bring down 
a senator or Supreme Court justice or even a president. In fact, the 
media’s, political muckrakers’, and even feminists’ obsession with 
such charges, which originated as an expression of women’s new 



empowerment, now begins to seem almost diversionary. In the focus 
on sexual harassment, sexual politics has become obsessed with what 
may in fact be a dangerous symptom of increasing male rage and 
frustration over economic anxieties, job downsizing, stagnant wages, 
and career impasse or decline. Sexual politics, we remind ourselves, 
started out as a reaction against the feminine mystique. It was an 
explosion of women’s pent-up anger and rage against the put-downs 
they had to accept when they were completely dependent on men, the 
rage they took out on their own bodies and covertly on husbands and 
kids. That rage fueled the first battles of the women’s movement, and 
subsided with each advance woman made toward her own 
empowerment, her full personhood, freedom. 

But sexual politics now feeds the politics of hate and the growing 
polarization of America. It also masks the real threats now to 
women’s empowerment and men’s—the culture of corporate greed, 
the downsizing of jobs hitting even college-educated white males, 
with nearly a 20 percent loss of income in the last five years, to say 
nothing of minority, blue-collar, and those with less education.- A 
backlash from the men, egged on by media and political hatemongers, 
can make scapegoats of women again. But women are no longer the 
passive victims they once felt themselves to be. They cannot be 
pushed back easily into the feminine mystique, though some very 
shrewd women like Martha Stewart are making mega-millions on 
elaborate do-it-yourself decor and cuisine, selling pretend feminine 
mystique pursuits as chic new choices. 

The fact is women are now carrying some 50 percent of the 
income-earning burden in some 50 percent of households.^ Women 
are now nearly 50 percent of the labor force.- Fifty-nine percent of 
women work at jobs outside the home, including the mothers of young 
children.- And women’s wages are now about 72 percent of men’s. - 
They are not equal at the top; most of the CEOs, law partners, 
hospital heads, full professors, cabinet members, judges, and police 
chiefs are still men. But women are now represented in all levels 
below the very top. And more Americans now work for companies 
owned or run by women than by the Fortune 500. 

But it’s troubling to learn that the closing of the earnings gender 
gap has come only one-third (34 percent) from increases in women’s 
earnings; most of it (66 percent) is accounted for by a drop in men’s 
earnings.- And while more and more women have entered the labor 


force in these years, more and more men have dropped out or been 
forced out. 

It is men, first minority men, now white men, first blue-collar, 
now middle management, who have been the main victims of 
corporate downsizing. Because it’s the blue-collar and middle 
management jobs held mainly by men that have been eliminated, not 
just by technology but in the short-term interests of increasing the 
stock-market price by getting rid of men’s higher wages and benefits. 
Women’s service jobs, in areas such as the health professions, are 
the part of the economy that is growing, but those jobs are 
increasingly being “contracted out,” put on a temporary or contingent 
basis without benefits. 

Many women’s jobs, especially those contingency jobs, are not 
brilliant careers, but poll after poll shows women today feeling 
pretty good about their complex lives of job, profession, and their 
various choices of marriage and motherhood. Women feel that zest 
still, with so many more choices than their mothers had, since they 
broke out of the feminine mystique. But the sexual politics that helped 
us break through the feminine mystique is not relevant or adequate, is 
even diversionary, in confronting the serious and growing economic 
imbalance, the mounting income inequality of wealth, now threatening 
both women and men. 

Men, whose very masculine identity has been defined in terms of 
their score in the rat race, knocking the other guy down, can no longer 
count on that lifetime climb in job or profession. If they themselves 
are not yet downsized out, brothers, cousins, friends, co-workers 
have been. And they are more dependent now on wives’ earnings. 
The real and growing discrepancy affecting both women and men is 
the sharply increased income inequality between the very rich—the 
top 10 percent, who now control two-thirds of America’s wealth— 
and the rest of us, women and men. In the last decade, 80 percent of 
Americans have seen their incomes stagnate or decline.- The only 
reason more families are not pushed into poverty is that both women 
and men are working. But in the present culture of greed, where all of 
us are told we can get rich in the stock market, it’s easier to deflect 
the anxiety and insecurity that is growing among Americans, women 
and men, according to the polls—despite the booming stock market 
and corporate profits and the Dow Jones Index going through the roof 
—into sexual politics, and racial and intergenerational warfare. 
Easier to deflect the rage by turning women and men, black and 


white, young and old, against each other than to openly confront the 
excessive power of corporate greed. 

I would like to see women and men mounting a new nationwide 
campaign for a shorter work week, as over half a century ago, labor 
fought for the 40-hour week, now perhaps a 30-hour week, meeting 
the needs of women and men in the childrearing years who shouldn’t 
be working 80-hour weeks as some do now. A six-hour day, parents 
at work while kids are at school, also fitting the needs of men and 
women who from youth on will have to combine work with education 
and further training, and people over sixty who we know now need 
new ways to continue contributing their experience to society rather 
than draining it as candidates for nursing homes. More jobs for 
everybody, and new definitions of success for women and men. 

The old wars still divide us. In the Mitsubishi plant in Normal, 
Illinois, ten miles from Peoria where I grew up, a group of women 
have filed the largest lawsuit in sexual harassment history, against 
men alleged to have subjected them to mauling of buttocks and 
breasts and obscene name-calling, “slut” and “whore,” as well as 
refusing to give them the training and support they needed in their 
nontraditional jobs. In that part of Illinois, with the Caterpillar strike 
lost, those Mitsubishi jobs were the only good jobs left. The men 
were clearly threatened as women began to take those jobs. I was 
proud of NOW, the National Organization for Women (which I 
helped start when I saw we needed a movement to get beyond the 
feminine mystique and participate as equals in the mainstream of 
society), when it went to Japan to be joined by forty-five Japanese 
women’s organizations to take on Mitsubishi in its own base. But 
women’s victory over male abuse can’t last, isn’t solid, until the 
causes of that insecurity and rage are addressed by and for women 
and men. 

Still, the new power of women is being felt all over the world 
now as was made clear in 1995 at the Beijing conference. When the 
authoritarian Chinese government could not get the Olympics, it 
welcomed the UN World’s Women’s Conference, expecting the 
women to shop and pose in pretty pictures against picturesque 
Chinese backdrops. When 40,000 women from women’s 
organizations, in movement all over the world, demanded visas, and 
protested at Chinese embassies when they were denied, the Chinese 
government tried to wall off the nongovernment conference into an 



isolated suburb. But they could not stop the women of the world. 
Told they could demonstrate only at a children’s playground, women 
from Tibet who had been denied visas brought CNN to that 
playground and, shrouded in black, took their story to the whole 
world. Hillary Rodham Clinton asserted “women’s rights are human 
rights” to the whole world. The official delegates to that UN 
conference were, of course, women now, empowered women, where 
twenty years ago they were men or wives and secretaries of male 
officials who took their government’s seats at the crucial votes. The 
women this time not only declared a woman’s right to control her 
own sexuality and her childbearing as a universal human right, but 
declared the genital mutilation of little girls a crime against humanity. 
Under the feminine mystique, men all over the world took for granted 
their right to beat or abuse their wives. Now, in the United States 
and, after Beijing, in the world, they no longer can assume that right. 
In the United States, the Department of Justice has set up an office to 
train police to deal with violence against women. 

Violence against women seems to be increasing in the United 
States, partly because women are reporting as abuse what they used 
to accept passively as private shame, but maybe also because men’s 
increasing frustration and desperation is being taken out on women. 
Studies and reports from California, Connecticut, and elsewhere 
show an increase in sexual abuse and violence against women, as 
well as suicide, child abuse, and divorce, in the face of corporate 
downsizing, and the lack of community, the dwindling of time and 
concern for larger purposes in the “me” decade. But women’s 
concerns now go beyond their own security. It was concern for their 
families, and not only their own families but those poorer or 
otherwise less fortunate, that motivated American women in 1996 to 
rise up against the Republican’s threats to cut Medicare, Medicaid, 
welfare, Social Security, student loans, child immunizations, and the 
protection of the environment. Co-opting feminist rhetoric did not get 
women’s votes for politicians who threatened the welfare of 
children, old people, the sick, and the poor. Abstractions of “balance 
the budget” did not mask for women the danger of gutting government 
programs that protect children and older people, the sick and the 
poor, to provide tax cuts for the rich. A decade after the women’s 
movement, a study by the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University 
showed that the addition of even two women to a state legislature 
changes the political agenda, not just in the direction of women’s 



rights, but to basic concerns of life—the lives of children, older 
people, the poor, and the sick. 

And so, paradox or full circle, or transcendent thesis, in these 
thirty-odd years, women breaking through the feminine mystique to 
their own political and economic participation and empowerment in 
the mainstream of society are not becoming more like men but are 
expressing in the public sphere some of the values that used to be 
expressed or allowed only in the private nurture of the home. The 
mystique we had to rebel against when it was used to confine us to 
the home, to keep us from developing and using our full personhood 
in society, distorted those real values women are now embracing, 
with new power and zest, both in the privacy of the home and in the 
larger society. And in so doing, they are changing the political and 
personal dimensions of marriage and families, home and the society 
they share with men. 

Marriage, which used to be a woman’s only way to social 
function and economic support, is now a choice for most women as 
well as for men. It no longer defines a woman completely as it never 
did a man; she often keeps her own name now or husband and wife 
take each other’s hyphenated. In breaking through the feminine 
mystique, some early feminist radical rhetoric seemed to declare war 
on marriage, motherhood, family. The divorce rate of those 1950s 
feminine mystique marriages exploded from the 1960s to the 1980s. 
Before, no matter who went to court, it was only the man who had the 
economic and social independence to get a divorce. Since then, 
women in great numbers can and do get out of bad marriages. In some 
instances, women rebelled against that feminine mystique narrow 
role by getting out of the marriage altogether. But in others, the 
marriage moved to a new kind of equality, and stability, as women 
went back to school, went to law school, got promoted in serious 
jobs, and began to share the earning burden, which before had been 
the man’s sole inescapable responsibility. And men began to share 
the child care and the housework, which before had been her 
exclusive, defining domain, her responsibility—and her power. 

It has been fascinating to see all this changing, the new problems, 
and joys, working it out. Feminist rhetoric conceptualized “the 
politics of housework,” which most women began practicing in their 
daily lives. Men are not yet taking absolutely equal responsibility for 
children and home, just as women are not yet treated as equal in many 
offices. I was delighted at a front-page article in the New York Times 



some years ago proclaiming “American Men Not Doing 50% of the 
Housework.” How wonderful, I thought, that the Times would even 
consider it possible, desirable, front-page stuff that American men 
should do 50 percent of the housework—the sons of the feminine 
mystique, whose mothers made their sandwiches and picked their 
dirty underwear off the floor. It was progress, it seemed to me, that 
men who once “helped” (barbecuing the hamburgers while she 
cleaned the toilet bowl) were even doing 20 percent. Now, according 
to the latest figures, American men are doing 40 percent of the 
housework and child care.- I doubt they’re doing much ironing, but 
neither are the women. I’ve seen reports that sales of all those soaps 
women were supposed to throw in those appliances to keep them 
running twenty-four hours a day went way down during those years. 
And families started buying 25-watt light bulbs to hide the dust, until 
Saturday when they all cleaned house together. But it didn’t make me 
happy to read recently that only 35 percent of American families have 
one meal a day together. 

The fact is, the divorce rate is no longer exploding. And most of 
the divorces now are among the very young, not those who have gone 
through these changes. In the second decade after the women’s 
movement, I came across statistics from a population institute in 
Princeton that more American couples were having sex more often 
and enjoying it than ever before.- In my early research for The 
Feminine Mystique , I’d seen data from history that with every 
decade of women’s advance toward equality with men, measures of 
satisfying sexual intercourse between women and men increased. 
There’s a lot of data now that equality is strongly related to a good, 
lasting marriage—though there may also be more arguing between 
equals. At the American Sociological Association meetings in August 
1995,1 was asked to speak on the future of marriage. I saw that future 
in terms of new strengths of women and men, and new challenges for 
society. For instance, in all the arguments about men not doing enough 
of the housework and child care, I’ve heard women recently admit 
that they don’t like it when men take over so much of it that the kid 
comes to Daddy first with her report card or cut finger. “I wouldn’t 
consider letting Ben take him to the doctor,” my friend Sally said. 
“That’s my thing.” There was a lot of power in women’s role in the 
family that wasn’t visible even to the feminists according to the male 
measures. More studies need to be done to test what strengths are 


added to families when mothers and fathers share the nurturing 
power. 

All we hear about, all we talk about, are the problems: the 
stresses, for women, of combining work and family; the deficit for 
children, growing up in a single-parent family. We don’t hear about 
the studies at the Wellesley Center for Research on Women which 
show that combining work and family reduces stress for women, is 
better for women’s mental health than the old either-or single role, 
and that women’s mental health no longer declines sharply after 
menopause as it used to do. We don’t hear about the different kinds of 
strengths and support single-parent families need and could get from 
their communities. But there is a new awareness that something has to 
change now in the structure of society, because the hours and 
conditions of jobs and professional training are still based on the 
lives of the men of the past who had wives to take care of the details 
of life. Women don’t have such wives, but neither do most men now. 
So the “family friendly” workplace becomes a conscious political 
and collective bargaining issue—flextime, job sharing, parental 
leave. It turns out that companies on the cutting edge in terms of 
technology and the bottom line are also the ones adopting “family 
friendly” policies. The United States has been backward compared to 
other advanced industrial nations in this regard; 98 percent of three- 
to four-year-olds in France and Belgium are in a pre-school 
program.— The United States was the last industrial nation except 
South Africa to adopt a national parental leave policy, only after Bill 
Clinton took office. 

There’s also a growing sense that it takes more than one mother- 
one father, much less a single mother, to raise a child. “It takes a 
village to raise a child,” First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a 
best-selling book in 1996. There’s a new awareness of the values of 
diversity—and of the need of all families for a larger, stronger 
community. It’s a far cry from that single model of the isolated 
suburban feminine mystique family of the sixties, not only the many 
variations—some couples having babies in their forties, women and 
men, well established in careers; some juggling work, profession, 
training, and home with babies in their twenties and thirties; 
sometimes the woman taking a year or two off, or the man, if they can 
afford it, and single parents—all of them relying more than ever on 
support from grandparents, play groups with other parents, company, 
church, or community child care. And more and more women and 


men, living alone or together, young and older, in new patterns. The 
recent campaign to legalize same-sex marriage shows the powerful 
appeal of lasting emotional commitment even for men or women who 
depart Ifom conventional sexual norms. 

In 1994-95, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for 
Scholars at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., I led a seminar for 
policy makers, looking beyond sexual politics, beyond identity 
politics, beyond gender—toward a new paradigm of women, men, 
and community. In 1996, we focused on “Refraining Family Values,” 
in the context of new economic realities. I have never bought the 
seeming polarization between feminism and families. A demagogic 
reprise of the old feminine mystique, the recent reactionary “family 
values” campaign is basically an attack on abortion, divorce, and, 
above all, the rights and autonomy of women. But there are real 
values having to do with families, with mothering and fathering and 
bonds between the generations, with all our needs to get and to give 
love and nurture that are women’s public and private concerns today 
and the crux of the political gender gap in 1996. The question is, 
when will men turn on the culture of greed and say, “Is this all?” 

The old separatism—women vs. men—is no longer relevant, is in 
fact being transcended. Just as the Playboy Clubs were shut down 
some years after the women’s movement—it no longer seemed sexy, 
evidently, for women to pretend they were “bunnies”—in 1997 
Esquire magazine is in trouble. And the publisher of Ms. and 
Working Mother put them up for sale: all that was revolutionary 
twenty years ago, he said, but now it’s part of society. The trend¬ 
setting New Yorker is now edited by a woman, and devoted its 
signature anniversary issue in 1996 to women. In the 1996 campaign, 
both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Elizabeth Dole displayed but also 
tried to hide the power that comes from successful careers of their 
own. Both focused their power on traditional women’s issues—the 
Red Cross, children—but with all the new political sophistication 
and organizational machinery that women now command for those 
issues. No longer was it possible to hide the new image of marriage 
between equals coming from the White House—despite the backing 
and filing when a new strong First Lady’s voice is heard openly in 
the highest political councils. A clear sense exists on both sides of 
the political aisle of a partnership between women and men way 
beyond the feminine mystique. 

At the same time, the historic new gender gap between women 



and men in the presidential election race portends an inexorable 
shifting of the national political agenda toward concerns that used to 
be dismissed as “women’s issues.” So, as a result of women’s 
growing political power, the old feminine mystique is now being 
transformed into unprecedented new political reality and priority for 
both parties. 

It was the Wall Street Journal that first reported this with front¬ 
page headlines (January 11, 1996): “In Historic Numbers, Men and 
Women Split Over Presidential Race.” The Journal reported: 

If current trends continue, the split between men and women 
would be wider in the 1996 presidential election than in any in 
recent history. This could, in fact, be the first modern election in 
which men and women collectively come down on different 
sides of a presidential race. 

“The 1996 race is currently characterized by a gender gap of 
historic proportions,” says Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster 
who helps conduct The Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls.... 

Indeed, in a Journal/NBC poll early last month, the president 
and Sen. Dole were in a virtual dead heat among the American 
men. But among women, the president led Sen. Dole by 54% to 
36%. 


The Journal also noted that: 

The president’s strength among women voters, which has 
increased amid fierce debate over the budget, is the principal 
reason he has bounced back in most recent polls. “In essence,” 
says Mr. Hart, “the president’s current strength comes entirely 
from women, who are leaning so strongly toward the Democrats 
today that even homemakers, a traditional GOP base group, are 
supporting President Clinton.”... 

Asked to name the main issues facing the nation, men are 
nearly twice as likely as women to cite the budget deficit or 
cutting government spending, which are the top GOP priorities. 
Women, in turn, are far more likely to cite social problems such 
as education and poverty... 

[A]ttempts to scale back Medicare...and the wrangling over 



social spending has affected women of all ages, who tend to 
assume greater responsibilities for caring for the young and the 
old. That often leaves them worrying more than men when social 
programs aimed at those populations are being scaled back. 


Significantly, it is such broad social concerns and not the 
“character” or sexual issues that now define the gender gap, even 
though the new frustrations of men became the target of the politics of 
hate, as played by Pat Buchanan in the Republican primaries. The 
political gurus on both sides were nonplused: the old assumptions 
about the final power of the white male still held, but uneasily, for 
more and more white men were joining even more men of color in 
these new concerns. And it became apparent to old and new political 
establishments: they can no longer win without the women, not just 
token, passive supporters but active policymakers. For women 
elected the President of the United States in 1996 by a 17% gender 
gap. And a woman, for the first time, is now Secretary of State. 

It is awesome to see these waves begin to transform the political 
landscape. A lot of Republicans joining Democrats finally in voting 
to increase the minimum wage. The Republicans retreating from their 
brutal attacks on Medicaid, Medicare, Head Start, food stamps, 
children’s inocculations, student loans, environmental protection, 
even affirmative action. The concrete concerns of life, women’s 
concerns, now front and center, taking priority over the abstractions 
of budget balancing. And new movement confronting the concrete 
new realities of the growing income discrepancy in America 
affecting women, men, and their children, fueling the politics of hate. 
I was happy in 1996 to join other, new, younger women leaders in 
alliance with the militant new leadership of the AFL-CIO in planning 
speakouts against this growing income chasm, in favor of a “living 
wage” for everyone, no longer women versus men. What has to be 
faced now by women and men together are the life-threatening 
excesses of the culture of greed, of brutal, unbridled corporate 
power. There has to be a new way of defining and measuring the 
bottom line of corporate and personal competition and success, and 
national budget priorities. The welfare of the people, the common 
good, has to take priority over the narrow measure of the next 
quarter’s stock-market price increase, escalating executive 
compensation, and even over our separate “single issue.” And some 



visionary CEOs as well as male politicians begin to see this. 

But the women are beginning to get impatient. The Hollywood 
Women’s Political Committee, which had raised millions of dollars 
to elect liberal senators and President Clinton, voted to disband in 
protest against money as a dominant force in American politics, and 
against the betrayal of the politicians who supported so-called 
welfare reform, which abolished Aid to Families with Dependent 
Children. 

New birth-control technology even beyond RU486, as well as the 
evolving national consensus, will soon make the whole issue of 
abortion obsolete. As important as it was, it should never have been 
a “single issue” litmus test for the women’s movement. The male spin 
doctors and political advisers to presidents and both political parties 
still do not “get” the totality of women’s new empowerment or they 
would not have advised the passage and signing of a welfare bill that 
pushed one million children into poverty. 

For the women’s movement, for this nation, other issues of choice 
must now involve us. Choice having to do with diverse patterns of 
family life and career and the economic wherewithal for women and 
men of all ages and races to have “choice” in their lives not just the 
very rich—choices of how we live and choices of how we die. 

The paradox continues to deepen, opening new serious 
consideration of real values in women’s experience that were hidden 
beneath the feminine mystique. There is much talk lately of a third 
sector, of civic virtue, Harvard professors and others discovering 
that the real bonds that keep a society flourishing are not necessarily 
wealth, oil, trade, technology, but bonds of civic engagement, the 
voluntary associations that observers from De Tocqueville on saw 
as the lifeblood of American democracy. The decline of these 
organizations is blamed in part on women working. All those years 
when women did the PTAs, and Scouts, and church and sodalities 
and Fadies Village Improvement Society for free, no one valued them 
much at all. Now that women take themselves seriously, and get paid 
and taken seriously, such community work, in its absence in 1996 
America, is now being taken seriously, too. Some social scientists 
and political gurus, right and left, propose that the third sector can 
take over much of the welfare responsibilities of government. But the 
women, who constituted the third sector, know that it cannot all alone 
assume the larger responsibilities of government. Our democracy 



requires a new sense of combined public, private, civic, and 
corporate responsibility. 

In 1996 I flew back to Peoria, to help give a funeral eulogy to my 
best friend from high school and college, Harriet Vance Parkhurst, 
mother of five, Republican committeewoman and ingrained democrat. 
Harriet went home to Peoria after World War II, married a high- 
school classmate who became a Republican state senator, and while 
raising five kids chaired and championed every community campaign 
and new cause from a museum and symphony to Head Start and 
women’s rights. There were front-page news stories and long 
editorials in the Peoria papers on Harriet’s death. She wasn’t rich 
and famous, she had no male signs of power. I like to think this new 
serious tribute to a woman who led the community in nourishing 
those bonds once silently taken for granted as women’s lot was not 
only a personal tribute to my dear friend, but a new sign of the 
seriousness with which women’s contributions, once masked, 
trivialized by the feminine mystique, are now taken. 

In other ways, too, it’s the widening of the circle since we broke 
through the feminine mystique, not the either-or, win-lose battles, that 
stirs me now. A reporter asks me, in one of those perennial 
evaluations of whither-women, “What is the main battle now for 
women, who’s winning, who’s losing?” And I think that question 
almost sounds obsolete; that’s not the way to put it. Women put up a 
great battle, in Congress and the states, to get breast cancer taken 
seriously, get mammograms covered by health insurance. But the 
bigger, new threat to women’s lives is lung cancer, with cigarette 
advertising using feminist themes to get women hooked on smoking 
while men are quitting. 

The large sections in bookstores and libraries now given over to 
books analyzing every aspect of women’s identity, in every historical 
period and far-flung nation or tribe, the endless variations on “Men 
Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,” and how-to-communicate 
with each other (“They just don’t get it”), are surfeiting. Men’s 
colleges have become almost extinct in America. When the courts 
decree that the Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel can no 
longer be funded by the state unless they give women equal, and not 
separate, military training, the new attempt to claim that separate sex 
colleges or high schools are better for women, that the poor little 
dears will never learn to raise their voices if they have to study and 
compete with men, is, for me, reactive and regressive, a temporary 



obsolete timidity. 

In colleges and universities from the smallest community college 
to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, women’s studies are not only taught 
as a serious separate discipline, but in every discipline now, new 
dimensions of thought and history are emerging as women scholars 
and men analyze women’s experience, once a “dark continent.” In 
June 1996 the first national conference devoted to female American 
writers of the 1800s, held at Trinity College in Hartford, received 
proposals for 250 papers. The level of interest and sophistication of 
those papers was “absolutely unimaginable” ten years ago, said the 
organizers of the conference. The nineteenth-century female writers 
“were dealing with the large social and political problems of the 
time, such as slavery, industrial capitalism and, after the Civil War, 
the color line,” said Joan D. Hedrick, a Trinity College history 
professor whose biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe won a Pulitzer 
Prize last year. “Women didn’t have a vote during this period—the 
only way they could represent themselves was through their writing.” 
But these writers were ignored as male deconstructionists and their 
feminist followers wiped out, in the postmodern canon, what 
professor Paul Lauter termed “the idea of sentiment, the idea of tears, 
the idea of being moved by literature, the idea of being political.” 

And now women are bringing back those larger issues and 
concerns with life , beyond the dead abstractions, into politics, and 
not just letters. And so, today, women are no longer a “dark 
continent” in literature or any academic discipline, though some 
feminist scholars continue to debate “victim history.” In a review of 
The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity by the 
eminent historian George L. Mosse ( The New Republic, June 10, 
1996), Roy Porter says: 

What remains hidden from history today is the male. Not that 
the accomplishments of men have been neglected. Historical 
research has always centered on men’s lives—tinker, tailor, 
soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggarman...The very term 
“men” could automatically serve a double function, referring 
equally to males or humans...when those who strutted on the 
historical stage were almost invariably male. Being a man— 
performing in the theater of works, politics, power—was simply 
assumed to be natural; and when allegedly male traits such as 
fighting were occasionally questioned by pacifists or protesters, 



the dead white European males dominating the academy and the 
airwaves were deft at belittling such criticisms as hysterical or 
utopian, on the grounds that a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta 
do.... It was the women’s movement, not surprisingly, which 
first put maleness under cross-examination.... 


But the books so far that take on the masculine mystique and the 
so-called “men’s studies” and “men’s movement” have too often 
been literal copies in reverse of “women’s lib”—and thus, by 
definition, inauthentic. Or a revisionist desperate embrace of the 
outmoded, stunted, brutal youth-arrested machismo that still in 
America seems to define masculinity. Robert Bly in his poetry may 
exhort men to tears, but in those forest camps he led them to tribal 
chest-thumping, breast-beating exercises in caveman male 
impersonation, banging those drums in their fake-lion loincloths. The 
gun-obsessed militiamen have threatened the very foundation of 
society with that obsolete masculinity. We feminists have become so 
obsessed with the liberating force of our own authenticity, breaking 
through that obsolete feminine mystique, embracing the new 
possibilities of our own personhood, that we have lately regarded 
men mainly as they oppressed us—bosses, husbands, lovers, police 
—or failed to carry their share of the housework, child care, the 
relationship , the feelings we now demanded of them, even as we 
learned the professional skills and political power games and started 
to carry the earning responsibilities once expected only of men. 
Those straight-line corporate and professional careers still structured 
in terms of the lives of the men of the past whose wives took care of 
the details of life, we now know, pose real, sometimes insuperable, 
problems for women today. What we haven’t noticed is the crisis, the 
mounting desperation of the men still defined in terms of those no 
longer reliable, downsized, outshifted, disappearing lifetime 
corporate and professional careers. Because we know men have all 
that power (dead white men did!), we just don’t take seriously (and 
they don’t admit the seriousness of) those eight years American 
women now live longer than men: seventy-two, men’s life expectancy 
today; eighty, women’s. 

The research I explored for my 1993 book The Fountain of Age 
showed two things crucial for living vital long lives: purposes and 
projects that use one’s abilities, structure one’s days, and keep one 



moving as a part of our changing society; and bonds of intimacy. But 
for men whose project was laid out in that no-longer-to-be-relied-on 
lifetime career, there’s chaos now. They need the flexibility women 
were forced to develop, raising kids, fitting profession, job, and 
family together somehow, inventing a changing pattern for life as it 
came along. For that long lifetime, men desperately need now the 
ease in creating and sustaining bonds of intimacy and sharing feelings 
that used to be relegated as women’s business. For, let’s face it 
finally, what used to be accepted—man-as-measure-of-all-things— 
must now be reconsidered. Women and men are now both occupying 
the mainstream of society and defining the terms. The standards, the 
definitions, the very measures we live by, have to change, are 
changing, as women’s and men’s shared new reality sweeps aside the 
obsolete remnants of the feminine mystique and its machismo 
counterpart. 

And so, in a politics where women’s newly conscious voting 
power now exceeds men’s, life concerns—care of young and old, 
sickness and health, the choice when and whether to have a baby, 
family values —now define the agenda more than the old abstractions 
of deficit and the missiles of death. In August 1996, the New York 
Times reports a fashion crisis: Women are no longer buying high- 
style clothes, men are. Ads and commercials sell “dad’s night to 
cook,” perfume, and face-lifts for men. That baby in the backpack 
makes young men now strong enough to be tender. They may grow up, 
those men, out of the child-man that has defined masculinity until 
now. And those women athletes, taking the spotlight at the ’96 
Olympics, what standards will they change? The ads and the fashion 
magazines may still feature American prepubescent child-women, or 
push silicone-stuffed breasts that can’t even respond to human touch 
—but young girls growing up now are also sold the training shoes 
and the new ideals of strength. Will new women no longer need men 
to be taller, stronger, earn more? 

Grown-up men and women, no longer obsessed with youth, 
outgrowing finally children’s games, and obsolete rituals of power 
and sex, become more and more authentically themselves. And they 
do not pretend that men are from Mars or women are from Venus. 
They even share each other’s interests, talk a common shorthand of 
work, love, play, kids, politics. We may now begin to glimpse the 
new human possibilities when women and men are finally free to be 
themselves, know each other for who they really are, and define the 



terms and measures of success, failure, joy, triumph, power, and the 
common good, together. 


BETTY FRIEDAN 
Washington, D.C. 
April 1997 



Introduction 

to the Tenth Anniversary Edition 


It is a decade now since the publication of The Feminine Mystique, 
and until I started writing the book, I wasn’t even conscious of the 
woman problem. Locked as we all were then in that mystique, which 
kept us passive and apart, and kept us from seeing our real problems 
and possibilities, I, like other women, thought there was something 
wrong with me because I didn’t have an orgasm waxing the kitchen 
floor. I was a freak, writing that book—not that I waxed any floor, I 
must admit, in the throes of finishing it in 1963. 

Each of us thought she was a freak ten years ago if she didn’t 
experience that mysterious orgastic fulfillment the commercials 
promised when waxing the kitchen floor. However much we enjoyed 
being Junior’s and Janey’s or Emily’s mother, or B.J.’s wife, if we 
still had ambitions, ideas about ourselves as people in our own right 
—well, we were simply freaks, neurotics, and we confessed our sin 
or neurosis to priest or psychoanalyst, and tried hard to adjust. We 
didn’t admit it to each other if we felt there should be more in life 
than peanut-butter sandwiches with the kids, if throwing powder into 
the washing machine didn’t make us relive our wedding night, if 
getting the socks or shirts pure white was not exactly a peak 
experience, even if we did feel guilty about the tattletale gray. 

Some of us (in 1963, nearly half of all women in the United 



States) were already committing the unpardonable sin of working 
outside the home to help pay the mortgage or grocery bill. Those who 
did felt guilty, too—about betraying their femininity, undermining 
their husbands’ masculinity, and neglecting their children by daring to 
work for money at all, no matter how much it was needed. They 
couldn’t admit, even to themselves, that they resented being paid half 
what a man would have been paid for the job, or always being 
passed over for promotion, or writing the paper for which he got the 
degree and the raise. 

A suburban neighbor of mine named Gertie was having coffee 
with me when the census taker came as I was writing The Feminine 
Mystique. “Occupation?” the census taker asked. “Housewife,” I 
said. Gertie, who had cheered me on in my efforts at writing and 
selling magazine articles, shook her head sadly. “You should take 
yourself more seriously,” she said. I hesitated, and then said to the 
census taker, “Actually, I’m a writer.” But, of course, I then was, and 
still am, like all married women in America, no matter what else we 
do between 9 and 5, a housewife. Of course single women didn’t put 
down “housewife” when the census taker came around, but even here 
society was less interested in what these women were doing as 
persons in the world than in asking, “Why isn’t a nice girl like you 
married?” And so they, too, were not encouraged to take themselves 
seriously. 

It seems such a precarious accident that I ever wrote the book at 
all—but, in another way, my whole life had prepared me to write that 
book. All the pieces finally came together. In 1957, getting strangely 
bored with writing articles about breast feeding and the like for 
Redbook and the Ladies’ Home Journal , I put an unconscionable 
amount of time into a questionnaire for my fellow Smith graduates of 
the class of 1942, thinking I was going to disprove the current notion 
that education had fitted us ill for our role as women. But the 
questionnaire raised more questions than it answered for me— 
education had not exactly geared us to the role women were trying to 
play, it seemed. The suspicion arose as to whether it was the 
education or the role that was wrong. McCall’s commissioned an 
article based on my Smith alumnae questionnaire, but the then male 
publisher of McCall’s, during that great era of togetherness, turned 
the piece down in horror, despite underground efforts of female 
editors. The male McCall’s editors said it couldn’t be true. 

I was next commissioned to do the article for Ladies’ Home 



Journal. That time I took it back, because they rewrote it to say just 
the opposite of what, in fact, I was trying to say I tried it again for 
Redbook. Each time I was interviewing more women, psychologists, 
sociologists, marriage counselors, and the like and getting more and 
more sure I was on the track of something. But what? I needed a name 
for whatever it was that kept us from using our rights, that made us 
feel guilty about anything we did not as our husbands’ wives, our 
children’s mothers, but as people ourselves. I needed a name to 
describe that guilt. Unlike the guilt women used to feel about sexual 
needs, the guilt they felt now was about needs that didn’t fit the 
sexual definition of women, the mystique of feminine fulfillment—the 
feminine mystique. 

The editor of Redbook told my agent, “Betty has gone off her 
rocker. She has always done a good job for us, but this time only the 
most neurotic housewife could identify.” I opened my agent’s letter 
on the subway as I was taking the kids to the pediatrician. I got off the 
subway to call my agent and told her, “I’ll have to write a book to get 
this into print.” What I was writing threatened the very foundations of 
the women’s magazine world—the feminine mystique. 

When Norton contracted for the book, I thought it would take a 
year to finish it; it took five. I wouldn’t have even started it if the 
New York Public Library had not, at just the right time, opened the 
Frederick Lewis Allen Room, where writers working on a book 
could get a desk, six months at a time, rent free. I got a baby-sitter 
three days a week and took the bus from Rockland County to the city 
and somehow managed to prolong the six months to two years in the 
Allen Room, enduring much joking from other writers at lunch when 
it came out that I was writing a book about women. Then, somehow, 
the book took me over, obsessed me, wanted to write itself, and I 
took my papers home and wrote on the dining-room table, the living- 
room couch, on a neighbor’s dock on the river, and kept on writing it 
in my mind when I stopped to take the kids somewhere or make 
dinner, and went back to it after they were in bed. 

I have never experienced anything as powerful, truly mystical, as 
the forces that seemed to take me over when I was writing The 
Feminine Mystique. The book came from somewhere deep within me 
and all my experience came together in it: my mother’s discontent, my 
own training in Gestalt and Freudian psychology, the fellowship I felt 
guilty about giving up, the stint as a reporter which taught me how to 
follow clues to the hidden economic underside of reality, my exodus 



to the suburbs and all the hours with other mothers shopping at 
supermarkets, taking the children swimming, coffee Matches. Even 
the years of writing for women’s magazines when it was 
unquestioned gospel that women could identify with nothing beyond 
the home—not politics, not art, not science, not events large or small, 
war or peace, in the United States or the world, unless it could be 
approached through female experience as a wife or mother or 
translated into domestic detail! I could no longer write within that 
framework. The book I was now writing challenged the very 
definition of that universe—what I chose to call the feminine 
mystique. Giving it a name, I knew that it was not the only possible 
universe for women at all but an unnatural confining of our energies 
and vision. But as I began following leads and clues from women’s 
words and my own feelings, across psychology, sociology, and 
recent history, tracing back—through the pages of the magazines for 
which I’d written—why and how it happened, what it was really 
doing to women, to their children, even to sex, the implications 
became apparent and they were fantastic. I was surprised myself at 
what I was writing, where it was leading. After I finished each 
chapter, a part of me would wonder, Am I crazy? But there was also 
a growing feeling of calm, strong, gut-sureness as the clues fitted 
together, which must be the same Mnd of feeling a scientist has when 
he or she zeroes in on a discovery in one of those true-science 
detective stories. 

Only this was not just abstract and conceptual. It meant that I and 
every other woman I knew had been living a lie, and all the doctors 
who treated us and the experts who studied us were perpetuating that 
lie, and our homes and schools and churches and politics and 
professions were built around that lie. If women were really 
people —no more, no less—then all the things that kept them from 
being full people in our society would have to be changed. And 
women, once they broke through the feminine mystique and took 
themselves seriously as people, would see their place on a false 
pedestal, even their glorification as sexual objects, for the putdown it 
was. 

Yet if I had realized how fantastically fast that would really 
happen—already in less than ten years’ time—maybe I would have 
been so scared I might have stopped writing. It’s frightening when 
you’re starting on a new road that no one has been on before. You 
don’t know how far it’s going to take you until you look back and 



realize how far, how very far you’ve gone. When the first woman 
asked me, in 1963, to autograph The Feminine Mystique, saying what 
by now hundreds—thousands, I guess—of women have said to me, 
“It changed my whole life,” I wrote, “Courage to us all on the new 
road.” Because there is no turning back on that road. It has to change 
your whole life; it certainly changed mine. 

BETTY FRIEDAN 
New York, 1973 



Preface and Acknowledgments 


Gradually, without seeing it clearly for quite a while, I came to 
realize that something is very wrong with the way American women 
are trying to live their lives today I sensed it first as a question mark 
in my own life, as a wife and mother of three small children, half- 
guiltily, and therefore half-heartedly, almost in spite of myself, using 
my abilities and education in work that took me away from home. It 
was this personal question mark that led me, in 1957, to spend a great 
deal of time doing an intensive questionnaire of my college 
classmates, fifteen years after our graduation from Smith. The 
answers given by 200 women to those intimate open-ended questions 
made me realize that what was wrong could not be related to 
education in the way it was then believed to be. The problems and 
satisfaction of their lives, and mine, and the way our education had 
contributed to them, simply did not fit the image of the modern 
American woman as she was written about in women’s magazines, 
studied and analyzed in classrooms and clinics, praised and damned 
in a ceaseless barrage of words ever since the end of World War II. 
There was a strange discrepancy between the reality of our lives as 
women and the image to which we were trying to conform, the image 
that I came to call the feminine mystique. I wondered if other women 
faced this schizophrenic split, and what it meant. 

And so I began to hunt down the origins of the feminine mystique, 
and its effect on women who lived by it, or grew up under it. My 



methods were simply those of a reporter on the trail of a story, except 
I soon discovered that this was no ordinary story For the startling 
pattern that began to emerge, as one clue led me to another in far- 
flung fields of modern thought and life, defied not only the 
conventional image but basic psychological assumptions about 
women. I found a few pieces of the puzzle in previous studies of 
women; but not many, for women in the past have been studied in 
terms of the feminine mystique. The Mellon study of Vassar women 
was provocative, Simone de Beauvoir’s insights into Frenchwomen, 
the work of Mirra Komarovsky, A. H. Maslow, Alva Myrdal. I found 
even more provocative the growing body of new psychological 
thought on the question of man’s identity, whose implications for 
women seem not to have been realized. I found further evidence by 
questioning those who treat women’s ills and problems. And I traced 
the growth of the mystique by talking to editors of women’s 
magazines, advertising motivational researchers, and theoretical 
experts on women in the fields of psychology, psychoanalysis, 
anthropology, sociology, and family-life education. But the puzzle did 
not begin to fit together until I interviewed at some depth, from two 
hours to two days each, eighty women at certain crucial points in 
their life cycle—high school and college girls facing or evading the 
question of who they were; young housewives and mothers for whom, 
if the mystique were right, there should be no such question and who 
thus had no name for the problem troubling them; and women who 
faced a jumping-off point at forty. These women, some tortured, some 
serene, gave me the final clues, and the most damning indictment of 
the feminine mystique. 

I could not, however, have written this book without the 
assistance of many experts, both eminent theoreticians and practical 
workers in the field, and, indeed, without the cooperation of many 
who themselves believe and have helped perpetrate the feminine 
mystique. I was helped by many present and former editors of 
women’s magazines, including Peggy Bell, John English, Bruce 
Gould, Mary Ann Guitar, James Skardon, Nancy Lynch, Geraldine 
Rhoads, Robert Stein, Neal Stuart and Polly Weaver; by Ernest 
Dichter and the staff of the Institute for Motivational Research; and 
by Marion Skedgell, former editor of the Viking Press, who gave me 
her data from an unfinished study of fiction heroines. Among 
behavioral scientists, theoreticians and therapists in the field, I owe a 
great debt to William Menaker and John Landgraf of New York 



University, A. H. Maslow of Brandeis, John Dollard of Yale, 
William J. Goode of Columbia; to Margaret Mead; to Paul Vahanian 
of Teachers College, Elsa Siipola Israel and Eli Chinoy of Smith. 
And to Dr. Andras Angyal, psychoanalyst of Boston, Dr. Nathan 
Ackerman of New York, Dr. Louis English and Dr. Margaret 
Lawrence of the Rockland County Mental Health Center; to many 
mental health workers in Westchester County, including Mrs. Emily 
Gould, Dr. Gerald Fountain, Dr. Henrietta Glatzer and Marjorie 
Ilgenfritz of the Guidance Center of New Rochelle and the Rev. 
Edgar Jackson; Dr. Richard Gordon and Katherine Gordon of Bergen 
County, New Jersey; the late Dr. Abraham Stone, Dr. Lena Levine 
and Fred Jaffe of the Planned Parenthood Association, the staff of the 
James Jackson Putnam Center in Boston, Dr. Doris Menzer and Dr. 
Somers Sturges of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Alice King of the 
Alumnae Advisory Center and Dr. Lester Evans of the 
Commonwealth Fund. I am also grateful to those educators valiantly 
fighting the feminine mystique, who gave me helpful insights: Laura 
Bornholdt of Wellesley, Mary Bunting of Radcliffe, Marjorie 
Nicolson of Columbia, Esther Lloyd-Jones of Teachers College, 
Millicent McIntosh of Barnard, Esther Raushenbush of Sarah 
Lawrence, Thomas Mendenhall of Smith, Daniel Aaron and many 
other members of the Smith faculty. I am above all grateful to the 
women who shared their problems and feelings with me, beginning 
with the 200 women of Smith, 1942, and Marion Ingersoll Howell 
and Anne Mather Montero, who worked with me on the alumnae 
questionnaire that started my search. 

Without that superb institution, the Frederick Lewis Allen Room 
of the New York Public Library and its provision to a writer of quiet 
work space and continuous access to research sources, this particular 
mother of three might never have started a book, much less finished 
it. The same might be said of the sensitive support of my publisher, 
George P. Brockway, my editor, Burton Beals, and my agent, Martha 
Winston. In a larger sense, this book might never have been written if 
I had not had a most unusual education in psychology, from Kurt 
Koffka, Harold Israel, Elsa Siipola and James Gibson at Smith; from 
Kurt Lewin, Tamara Dembo, and the others of their group then at 
Iowa; and from E. C. Tolman, Jean Macfarlane, Nevitt Sanford and 
Erik Erikson at Berkeley—a liberal education, in the best sense, 
which was meant to be used, though I have not used it as I originally 
planned. 



The insights, interpretations both of theory and fact, and the 
implicit values of this book are inevitably my own. But whether or 
not the answers I present here are final—and there are many 
questions which social scientists must probe further—the dilemma of 
the American woman is real. At the present time, many experts, 
finally forced to recognize this problem, are redoubling their efforts 
to adjust women to it in terms of the feminine mystique. My answers 
may disturb the experts and women alike, for they imply social 
change. But there would be no sense in my writing this book at all if I 
did not believe that women can affect society, as well as be affected 
by it; that, in the end, a woman, as a man, has the power to choose, 
and to make her own heaven or hell. 

Grandview, New York 
June 1957-July 1962 



The Feminine Mystique 



The Problem That Has No Name 


The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of 
American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, 
a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century 
in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As 
she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover 
material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured 
Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was 
afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—“Is this all?” 

For over fifteen years there was no word of this yearning in the 
millions of words written about women, for women, in all the 
columns, books and articles by experts telling women their role was 
to seek fulfillment as wives and mothers. Over and over women 
heard in voices of tradition and of Freudian sophistication that they 
could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity. 
Experts told them how to catch a man and keep him, how to 
breastfeed children and handle their toilet training, how to cope with 
sibling rivalry and adolescent rebellion; how to buy a dishwasher, 
bake bread, cook gourmet snails, and build a swimming pool with 
their own hands; how to dress, look, and act more feminine and make 
marriage more exciting; how to keep their husbands from dying young 
and their sons from growing into delinquents. They were taught to 
pity the neurotic, unfeminine, unhappy women who wanted to be 
poets or physicists or presidents. They learned that truly feminine 
women do not want careers, higher education, political rights—the 
independence and the opportunities that the old-fashioned feminists 
fought for. Some women, in their forties and fifties, still remembered 
painfully giving up those dreams, but most of the younger women no 
longer even thought about them. A thousand expert voices applauded 
their femininity, their adjustment, their new maturity. All they had to 
do was devote their lives from earliest girlhood to finding a husband 
and bearing children. 

By the end of the nineteen-fifties, the average marriage age of 



women in America dropped to 20, and was still dropping, into the 
teens. Fourteen million girls were engaged by 17. The proportion of 
women attending college in comparison with men dropped from 47 
per cent in 1920 to 35 per cent in 1958. A century earlier, women 
had fought for higher education; now girls went to college to get a 
husband. By the mid-fifties, 60 per cent dropped out of college to 
marry, or because they were afraid too much education would be a 
marriage bar. Colleges built dormitories for “married students,” but 
the students were almost always the husbands. A new degree was 
instituted for the wives—“Ph. T.” (Putting Husband Through). 

Then American girls began getting married in high school. And 
the women’s magazines, deploring the unhappy statistics about these 
young marriages, urged that courses on marriage, and marriage 
counselors, be installed in the high schools. Girls started going 
steady at twelve and thirteen, in junior high. Manufacturers put out 
brassieres with false bosoms of foam rubber for little girls of ten. 
And an advertisement for a child’s dress, sizes 3-6x, in the New York 
Times in the fall of 1960, said: “She Too Can Join the Man-Trap 
Set.” 

By the end of the fifties, the United States birthrate was overtaking 
India’s. The birth-control movement, renamed Planned Parenthood, 
was asked to find a method whereby women who had been advised 
that a third or fourth baby would be born dead or defective might 
have it anyhow. Statisticians were especially astounded at the 
fantastic increase in the number of babies among college women. 
Where once they had two children, now they had four, five, six. 
Women who had once wanted careers were now making careers out 
of having babies. So rejoiced Life magazine in a 1956 paean to the 
movement of American women back to the home. 

In a New York hospital, a woman had a nervous breakdown when 
she found she could not breastfeed her baby. In other hospitals, 
women dying of cancer refused a drug which research had proved 
might save their lives: its side effects were said to be unfeminine. “If 
I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde,” a larger-than-life¬ 
sized picture of a pretty, vacuous woman proclaimed from 
newspaper, magazine, and drugstore ads. And across America, three 
out of every ten women dyed their hair blonde. They ate a chalk 
called Metrecal, instead of food, to shrink to the size of the thin young 
models. Department-store buyers reported that American women, 
since 1939, had become three and four sizes smaller. “Women are 



out to fit the clothes, instead of vice-versa,” one buyer said. 

Interior decorators were designing kitchens with mosaic murals 
and original paintings, for kitchens were once again the center of 
women’s lives. Home sewing became a million-dollar industry. 
Many women no longer left their homes, except to shop, chauffeur 
their children, or attend a social engagement with their husbands. 
Girls were growing up in America without ever having jobs outside 
the home. In the late fifties, a sociological phenomenon was suddenly 
remarked: a third of American women now worked, but most were 
no longer young and very few were pursuing careers. They were 
married women who held part-time jobs, selling or secretarial, to put 
their husbands through school, their sons through college, or to help 
pay the mortgage. Or they were widows supporting families. Fewer 
and fewer women were entering professional work. The shortages in 
the nursing, social work, and teaching professions caused crises in 
almost every American city. Concerned over the Soviet Union’s lead 
in the space race, scientists noted that America’s greatest source of 
unused brainpower was women. But girls would not study physics: it 
was “unfeminine.” A girl refused a science fellowship at Johns 
Hopkins to take a job in a real-estate office. All she wanted, she said, 
was what every other American girl wanted—to get married, have 
four children and live in a nice house in a nice suburb. 

The suburban housewife—she was the dream image of the young 
American woman and the envy, it was said, of women all over the 
world. The American housewife—freed by science and labor-saving 
appliances from the drudgery, the dangers of childbirth and the 
illnesses of her grandmother. She was healthy, beautiful, educated, 
concerned only about her husband, her children, her home. She had 
found true feminine fulfillment. As a housewife and mother, she was 
respected as a full and equal partner to man in his world. She was 
free to choose automobiles, clothes, appliances, supermarkets; she 
had everything that women ever dreamed of. 

In the fifteen years after World War II, this mystique of feminine 
fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of 
contemporary American culture. Millions of women lived their lives 
in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban 
housewife, kissing their husbands goodbye in front of the picture 
window, depositing their stationwagonsfiil of children at school, and 
smiling as they ran the new electric waxer over the spotless kitchen 
floor. They baked their own bread, sewed their own and their 



children’s clothes, kept their new washing machines and dryers 
running all day. They changed the sheets on the beds twice a week 
instead of once, took the rug-hooking class in adult education, and 
pitied their poor frustrated mothers, who had dreamed of having a 
career. Their only dream was to be perfect wives and mothers; their 
highest ambition to have five children and a beautiful house, their 
only fight to get and keep their husbands. They had no thought for the 
unfeminine problems of the world outside the home; they wanted the 
men to make the major decisions. They gloried in their role as 
women, and wrote proudly on the census blank: “Occupation: 
housewife.” 

For over fifteen years, the words written for women, and the 
words women used when they talked to each other, while their 
husbands sat on the other side of the room and talked shop or politics 
or septic tanks, were about problems with their children, or how to 
keep their husbands happy, or improve their children’s school, or 
cook chicken or make slipcovers. Nobody argued whether women 
were inferior or superior to men; they were simply different. Words 
like “emancipation” and “career” sounded strange and embarrassing; 
no one had used them for years. When a Frenchwoman named Simone 
de Beauvoir wrote a book called The Second Sex, an American critic 
commented that she obviously “didn’t know what life was all about,” 
and besides, she was talking about French women. The “woman 
problem” in America no longer existed. 

If a woman had a problem in the 1950’s and 1960’s, she knew 
that something must be wrong with her marriage, or with herself. 
Other women were satisfied with their lives, she thought. What kind 
of a woman was she if she did not feel this mysterious fulfillment 
waxing the kitchen floor? She was so ashamed to admit her 
dissatisfaction that she never knew how many other women shared it. 
If she tried to tell her husband, he didn’t understand what she was 
talking about. She did not really understand it herself. For over 
fifteen years women in America found it harder to talk about this 
problem than about sex. Even the psychoanalysts had no name for it. 
When a woman went to a psychiatrist for help, as many women did, 
she would say, “I’m so ashamed,” or “I must be hopelessly neurotic.” 
“I don’t know what’s wrong with women today,” a suburban 
psychiatrist said uneasily. “I only know something is wrong because 
most of my patients happen to be women. And their problem isn’t 
sexual.” Most women with this problem did not go to see a 



psychoanalyst, however. “There’s nothing wrong really,” they kept 
telling themselves. “There isn’t any problem.” 

But on an April morning in 1959, I heard a mother of four, having 
coffee with four other mothers in a suburban development fifteen 
miles from New York, say in a tone of quiet desperation, “the 
problem.” And the others knew, without words, that she was not 
talking about a problem with her husband, or her children, or her 
home. Suddenly they realized they all shared the same problem, the 
problem that has no name. They began, hesitantly, to talk about it. 
Later, after they had picked up their children at nursery school and 
taken them home to nap, two of the women cried, in sheer relief, just 
to know they were not alone. 

Gradually I came to realize that the problem that has no name was 
shared by countless women in America. As a magazine writer I often 
interviewed women about problems with their children, or their 
marriages, or their houses, or their communities. But after a while I 
began to recognize the telltale signs of this other problem. I saw the 
same signs in suburban ranch houses and split-levels on Long Island 
and in New Jersey and Westchester County; in colonial houses in a 
small Massachusetts town; on patios in Memphis; in suburban and 
city apartments; in living rooms in the Midwest. Sometimes I sensed 
the problem, not as a reporter, but as a suburban housewife, for 
during this time I was also bringing up my own three children in 
Rockland County, New York. I heard echoes of the problem in 
college dormitories and semiprivate maternity wards, at PTA 
meetings and luncheons of the League of Women Voters, at suburban 
cocktail parties, in station wagons waiting for trains, and in snatches 
of conversation overheard at Schrafft’s. The groping words I heard 
from other women, on quiet afternoons when children were at school 
or on quiet evenings when husbands worked late, I think I understood 
first as a woman long before I understood their larger social and 
psychological implications. 

Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the 
words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a 
woman would say “I feel empty somehow...incomplete.” Or she 
would say, “I feel as if I don’t exist.” Sometimes she blotted out the 
feeling with a tranquilizer. Sometimes she thought the problem was 
with her husband, or her children, or that what she really needed was 
to redecorate her house, or move to a better neighborhood, or have an 



affair, or another baby. Sometimes, she went to a doctor with 
symptoms she could hardly describe: “A tired feeling.. .1 get so angry 
with the children it scares me.. .1 feel like crying without any reason.” 
(A Cleveland doctor called it “the housewife’s syndrome.”) A 
number of women told me about great bleeding blisters that break out 
on their hands and arms. “I call it the housewife’s blight,” said a 
family doctor in Pennsylvania. “I see it so often lately in these young 
women with four, five and six children who bury themselves in their 
dishpans. But it isn’t caused by detergent and it isn’t cured by 
cortisone.” 

Sometimes a woman would tell me that the feeling gets so strong 
she runs out of the house and walks through the streets. Or she stays 
inside her house and cries. Or her children tell her a joke, and she 
doesn’t laugh because she doesn’t hear it. I talked to women who had 
spent years on the analyst’s couch, working out their “adjustment to 
the feminine role,” their blocks to “fulfillment as a wife and mother.” 
But the desperate tone in these women’s voices, and the look in their 
eyes, was the same as the tone and the look of other women, who 
were sure they had no problem, even though they did have a strange 
feeling of desperation. 

A mother of four who left college at nineteen to get married told 
me: 


I’ve tried everything women are supposed to do—hobbies, 
gardening, pickling, canning, being very social with my 
neighbors, joining committees, running PTA teas. I can do it all, 
and I like it, but it doesn’t leave you anything to think about— 
any feeling of who you are. I never had any career ambitions. 
All I wanted was to get married and have four children. I love 
the kids and Bob and my home. There’s no problem you can 
even put a name to. But I’m desperate. I begin to feel I have no 
personality. I’m a server of food and a putter-on of pants and a 
bedmaker, somebody who can be called on when you want 
something. But who am I? 


A twenty-three-year-old mother in blue jeans said: 


I ask myself why I’m so dissatisfied. I’ve got my health, fine 



children, a lovely new home, enough money. My husband has a 
real future as an electronics engineer. He doesn’t have any of 
these feelings. He says maybe I need a vacation, let’s go to New 
York for a weekend. But that isn’t it. I always had this idea we 
should do everything together. I can’t sit down and read a book 
alone. If the children are napping and I have one hour to myself I 
just walk through the house waiting for them to wake up. I don’t 
make a move until I know where the rest of the crowd is going. 
It’s as if ever since you were a little girl, there’s always been 
somebody or something that will take care of your life: your 
parents, or college, or falling in love, or having a child, or 
moving to a new house. Then you wake up one morning and 
there’s nothing to look forward to. 


A young wife in a Long Island development said: 

I seem to sleep so much. I don’t know why I should be so 
tired. This house isn’t nearly so hard to clean as the cold-water 
flat we had when I was working. The children are at school all 
day. It’s not the work. I just don’t feel alive. 


In 1960, the problem that has no name burst like a boil through the 
image of the happy American housewife. In the television 
commercials the pretty housewives still beamed over their foaming 
dishpans and Time's cover story on “The Suburban Wife, an 
American Phenomenon” protested: “Having too good a time...to 
believe that they should be unhappy.” But the actual unhappiness of 
the American housewife was suddenly being reported—from the New 
York Times and Newsweek to Good Housekeeping and CBS 
Television (“The Trapped Housewife”), although almost everybody 
who talked about it found some superficial reason to dismiss it. It 
was attributed to incompetent appliance repairmen {New York 
Times), or the distances children must be chauffeured in the suburbs 
{Time), or too much PTA {Redbook). Some said it was the old 
problem—education: more and more women had education, which 
naturally made them unhappy in their role as housewives. “The road 
from Freud to Frigidaire, from Sophocles to Spock, has turned out to 
be a bumpy one,” reported th q New York Times (June 28, 1960). 



“Many young women—certainly not all—whose education plunged 
them into a world of ideas feel stifled in their homes. They find their 
routine lives out of joint with their training. Like shut-ins, they feel 
left out. In the last year, the problem of the educated housewife has 
provided the meat of dozens of speeches made by troubled presidents 
of women’s colleges who maintain, in the face of complaints, that 
sixteen years of academic training is realistic preparation for 
wifehood and motherhood.” 

There was much sympathy for the educated housewife. (“Like a 
two-headed schizophrenic...once she wrote a paper on the 
Graveyard poets; now she writes notes to the milkman. Once she 
determined the boiling point of sulphuric acid; now she determines 
her boiling point with the overdue repairman.... The housewife often 
is reduced to screams and tears.... No one, it seems, is appreciative, 
least of all herself, of the kind of person she becomes in the process 
of turning from poetess into shrew.”) 

Home economists suggested more realistic preparation for 
housewives, such as high-school workshops in home appliances. 
College educators suggested more discussion groups on home 
management and the family, to prepare women for the adjustment to 
domestic life. A spate of articles appeared in the mass magazines 
offering “Fifty-eight Ways to Make Your Marriage More Exciting.” 
No month went by without a new book by a psychiatrist or sexologist 
offering technical advice on finding greater fulfillment through sex. 

A male humorist joked in Harper’s Bazaar (July, 1960) that the 
problem could be solved by taking away woman’s right to vote. (“In 
the pre-19th Amendment era, the American woman was placid, 
sheltered and sure of her role in American society. She left all the 
political decisions to her husband and he, in turn, left all the family 
decisions to her. Today a woman has to make both the family and the 
political decisions, and it’s too much for her.”) 

A number of educators suggested seriously that women no longer 
be admitted to the four-year colleges and universities: in the growing 
college crisis, the education which girls could not use as housewives 
was more urgently needed than ever by boys to do the work of the 
atomic age. 

The problem was also dismissed with drastic solutions no one 
could take seriously. (A woman writer proposed in Harper’s that 
women be drafted for compulsory service as nurses’ aides and baby¬ 
sitters.) And it was smoothed over with the age-old panaceas: “love 



is their answer,” “the only answer is inner help,” “the secret of 
completeness—children,” “a private means of intellectual 
fulfillment,” “to cure this toothache of the spirit—the simple formula 
of handing one’s self and one’s will over to God.”- 

The problem was dismissed by telling the housewife she doesn’t 
realize how lucky she is—her own boss, no time clock, no junior 
executive gunning for her job. What if she isn’t happy—does she 
think men are happy in this world? Does she really, secretly, still 
want to be a man? Doesn’t she know yet how lucky she is to be a 
woman? 

The problem was also, and finally, dismissed by shrugging that 
there are no solutions: this is what being a woman means, and what is 
wrong with American women that they can’t accept their role 
gracefully? As Newsweek put it (March 7, 1960): 

She is dissatisfied with a lot that women of other lands can 
only dream of. Her discontent is deep, pervasive, and 
impervious to the superficial remedies which are offered at 
every hand.... An army of professional explorers have already 
charted the major sources of trouble.... From the beginning of 
time, the female cycle has defined and confined woman’s role. 
As Freud was credited with saying: “Anatomy is destiny.” 
Though no group of women has ever pushed these natural 
restrictions as far as the American wife, it seems that she still 
cannot accept them with good grace.... A young mother with a 
beautiful family, charm, talent and brains is apt to dismiss her 
role apologetically. “What do I do?” you hear her say. “Why 
nothing. I’m just a housewife.” A good education, it seems, has 
given this paragon among women an understanding of the value 
of everything except her own worth... 


And so she must accept the fact that “American women’s 
unhappiness is merely the most recently won of women’s rights,” and 
adjust and say with the happy housewife found by Newsweek : “We 
ought to salute the wonderful freedom we all have and be proud of 
our lives today. I have had college and I’ve worked, but being a 
housewife is the most rewarding and satisfying role.... My mother 
was never included in my father’s business affairs.. .she couldn’t get 


out of the house and away from us children. But I am an equal to my 
husband; I can go along with him on business trips and to social 
business affairs.” 

The alternative offered was a choice that few women would 
contemplate. In the sympathetic words of the New York Times: “All 
admit to being deeply frustrated at times by the lack of privacy, the 
physical burden, the routine of family life, the confinement of it. 
However, none would give up her home and family if she had the 
choice to make again.” Redbook commented: “Few women would 
want to thumb their noses at husbands, children and community and 
go off on their own. Those who do may be talented individuals, but 
they rarely are successful women.” 

The year American women’s discontent boiled over, it was also 
reported {Look) that the more than 21,000,000 American women who 
are single, widowed, or divorced do not cease even after fifty their 
frenzied, desperate search for a man. And the search begins early— 
for seventy per cent of all American women now marry before they 
are twenty-four. A pretty twenty-five-year-old secretary took thirty- 
five different jobs in six months in the futile hope of finding a 
husband. Women were moving from one political club to another, 
taking evening courses in accounting or sailing, learning to play golf 
or ski, joining a number of churches in succession, going to bars 
alone, in their ceaseless search for a man. 

Of the growing thousands of women currently getting private 
psychiatric help in the United States, the married ones were reported 
dissatisfied with their marriages, the unmarried ones suffering from 
anxiety and, finally, depression. Strangely, a number of psychiatrists 
stated that, in their experience, unmarried women patients were 
happier than married ones. So the door of all those pretty suburban 
houses opened a crack to permit a glimpse of uncounted thousands of 
American housewives who suffered alone from a problem that 
suddenly everyone was talking about, and beginning to take for 
granted, as one of those unreal problems in American life that can 
never be solved—like the hydrogen bomb. By 1962 the plight of the 
trapped American housewife had become a national parlor game. 
Whole issues of magazines, newspaper columns, books learned and 
frivolous, educational conferences and television panels were 
devoted to the problem. 

Even so, most men, and some women, still did not know that this 
problem was real. But those who had faced it honestly knew that all 



the superficial remedies, the sympathetic advice, the scolding words 
and the cheering words were somehow drowning the problem in 
unreality. A bitter laugh was beginning to be heard from American 
women. They were admired, envied, pitied, theorized over until they 
were sick of it, offered drastic solutions or silly choices that no one 
could take seriously. They got all kinds of advice from the growing 
armies of marriage and child-guidance counselors, psychotherapists, 
and armchair psychologists, on how to adjust to their role as 
housewives. No other road to fulfillment was offered to American 
women in the middle of the twentieth century. Most adjusted to their 
role and suffered or ignored the problem that has no name. It can be 
less painful, for a woman, not to hear the strange, dissatisfied voice 
stirring within her. 

It is no longer possible to ignore that voice, to dismiss the 
desperation of so many American women. This is not what being a 
woman means, no matter what the experts say. For human suffering 
there is a reason; perhaps the reason has not been found because the 
right questions have not been asked, or pressed far enough. I do not 
accept the answer that there is no problem because American women 
have luxuries that women in other times and lands never dreamed of; 
part of the strange newness of the problem is that it cannot be 
understood in terms of the age-old material problems of man: 
poverty, sickness, hunger, cold. The women who suffer this problem 
have a hunger that food cannot fill. It persists in women whose 
husbands are struggling internes and law clerks, or prosperous 
doctors and lawyers; in wives of workers and executives who make 
$5,000 a year or $50,000. It is not caused by lack of material 
advantages; it may not even be felt by women preoccupied with 
desperate problems of hunger, poverty or illness. And women who 
think it will be solved by more money, a bigger house, a second car, 
moving to a better suburb, often discover it gets worse. 

It is no longer possible today to blame the problem on loss of 
femininity: to say that education and independence and equality with 
men have made American women unfeminine. I have heard so many 
women try to deny this dissatisfied voice within themselves because 
it does not fit the pretty picture of femininity the experts have given 
them. I think, in fact, that this is the first clue to the mystery: the 
problem cannot be understood in the generally accepted terms by 
which scientists have studied women, doctors have treated them, 



counselors have advised them, and writers have written about them. 
Women who suffer this problem, in whom this voice is stirring, have 
lived their whole lives in the pursuit of feminine fulfillment. They are 
not career women (although career women may have other 
problems); they are women whose greatest ambition has been 
marriage and children. For the oldest of these women, these 
daughters of the American middle class, no other dream was 
possible. The ones in their forties and fifties who once had other 
dreams gave them up and threw themselves joyously into life as 
housewives. For the youngest, the new wives and mothers, this was 
the only dream. They are the ones who quit high school and college to 
marry, or marked time in some job in which they had no real interest 
until they married. These women are very “feminine” in the usual 
sense, and yet they still suffer the problem. 

Are the women who finished college, the women who once had 
dreams beyond housewifery, the ones who suffer the most? 
According to the experts they are, but listen to these four women: 

My days are all busy, and dull, too. All I ever do is mess 
around. I get up at eight—I make breakfast, so I do the dishes, 
have lunch, do some more dishes and some laundry and cleaning 
in the afternoon. Then it’s supper dishes and I get to sit down a 
few minutes before the children have to be sent to bed.... That’s 
all there is to my day. It’s just like any other wife’s day. 
Humdrum. The biggest time, I am chasing kids. 


Ye Gods, what do I do with my time? Well, I get up at six. I 
get my son dressed and then give him breakfast. After that I 
wash dishes and bathe and feed the baby. Then I get lunch and 
while the children nap, I sew or mend or iron and do all the 
other things I can’t get done before noon. Then I cook supper for 
the family and my husband watches TV while I do the dishes. 
After I get the children to bed, I set my hair and then I go to bed. 


The problem is always being the children’s mommy, or the 



minister’s wife and never being myself. 


A film made of any typical morning in my house would look 
like an old Marx Brothers’ comedy I wash the dishes, rush the 
older children off to school, dash out in the yard to cultivate the 
chrysanthemums, run back in to make a phone call about a 
committee meeting, help the youngest child build a blockhouse, 
spend fifteen minutes skimming the newspapers so I can be 
well-informed, then scamper down to the washing machines 
where my thrice-weekly laundry includes enough clothes to keep 
a primitive village going for an entire year. By noon I’m ready 
for a padded cell. Very little of what I’ve done has been really 
necessary or important. Outside pressures lash me through the 
day. Yet I look upon myself as one of the more relaxed 
housewives in the neighborhood. Many of my friends are even 
more frantic. In the past sixty years we have come full circle and 
the American housewife is once again trapped in a squirrel 
cage. If the cage is now a modern plate-glass-and-broadloom 
ranch house or a convenient modern apartment, the situation is 
no less painful than when her grandmother sat over an 
embroidery hoop in her gilt-and-plush parlor and muttered 
angrily about women’s rights. 


The first two women never went to college. They live in 
developments in Levittown, New Jersey, and Tacoma, Washington, 
and were interviewed by a team of sociologists studying 
workingmen’s wives.- The third, a minister’s wife, wrote on the 
fifteenth reunion questionnaire of her college that she never had any 
career ambitions, but wishes now she had.- The fourth, who has a 
Ph.D. in anthropology, is today a Nebraska housewife with three 
children.- Their words seem to indicate that housewives of all 
educational levels suffer the same feeling of desperation. 

The fact is that no one today is muttering angrily about “women’s 
rights,” even though more and more women have gone to college. In a 
recent study of all the classes that have graduated from Barnard 
College^ a significant minority of earlier graduates blamed their 


education for making them want “rights,” later classes blamed their 
education for giving them career dreams, but recent graduates blamed 
the college for making them feel it was not enough simply to be a 
housewife and mother; they did not want to feel guilty if they did not 
read books or take part in community activities. But if education is 
not the cause of the problem, the fact that education somehow festers 
in these women may be a clue. 

If the secret of feminine fulfillment is having children, never have 
so many women, with the freedom to choose, had so many children, 
in so few years, so willingly. If the answer is love, never have 
women searched for love with such determination. And yet there is a 
growing suspicion that the problem may not be sexual, though it must 
somehow be related to sex. I have heard from many doctors evidence 
of new sexual problems between man and wife—sexual hunger in 
wives so great their husbands cannot satisfy it. “We have made 
woman a sex creature,” said a psychiatrist at the Margaret Sanger 
marriage counseling clinic. “She has no identity except as a wife and 
mother. She does not know who she is herself. She waits all day for 
her husband to come home at night to make her feel alive. And now it 
is the husband who is not interested. It is terrible for the women, to 
lie there, night after night, waiting for her husband to make her feel 
alive.” Why is there such a market for books and articles offering 
sexual advice? The kind of sexual orgasm which Kinsey found in 
statistical plenitude in the recent generations of American women 
does not seem to make this problem go away. 

On the contrary, new neuroses are being seen among women—and 
problems as yet unnamed as neuroses—which Freud and his 
followers did not predict, with physical symptoms, anxieties, and 
defense mechanisms equal to those caused by sexual repression. And 
strange new problems are being reported in the growing generations 
of children whose mothers were always there, driving them around, 
helping them with their homework—an inability to endure pain or 
discipline or pursue any self-sustained goal of any sort, a devastating 
boredom with life. Educators are increasingly uneasy about the 
dependence, the lack of self-reliance, of the boys and girls who are 
entering college today. “We fight a continual battle to make our 
students assume manhood,” said a Columbia dean. 

A White House conference was held on the physical and muscular 
deterioration of American children: were they being over-nurtured? 
Sociologists noted the astounding organization of suburban children’s 



lives: the lessons, parties, entertainments, play and study groups 
organized for them. A suburban housewife in Portland, Oregon, 
wondered why the children “need” Brownies and Boy Scouts out 
here. “This is not the slums. The kids out here have the great 
outdoors. I think people are so bored, they organize the children, and 
then try to hook everyone else on it. And the poor kids have no time 
left just to lie on their beds and daydream.” 

Can the problem that has no name be somehow related to the 
domestic routine of the housewife? When a woman tries to put the 
problem into words, she often merely describes the daily life she 
leads. What is there in this recital of comfortable domestic detail that 
could possibly cause such a feeling of desperation? Is she trapped 
simply by the enormous demands of her role as modern housewife: 
wife, mistress, mother, nurse, consumer, cook, chauffeur; expert on 
interior decoration, child care, appliance repair, furniture refinishing, 
nutrition, and education? Her day is fragmented as she rushes from 
dishwasher to washing machine to telephone to dryer to station 
wagon to supermarket, and delivers Johnny to the Little League field, 
takes Janey to dancing class, gets the lawnmower fixed and meets the 
6:45. She can never spend more than 15 minutes on any one thing; she 
has no time to read books, only magazines; even if she had time, she 
has lost the power to concentrate. At the end of the day, she is so 
terribly tired that sometimes her husband has to take over and put the 
children to bed. 

This terrible tiredness took so many women to doctors in the 
1950’s that one decided to investigate it. He found, surprisingly, that 
his patients suffering from “housewife’s fatigue” slept more than an 
adult needed to sleep—as much as ten hours a day—and that the 
actual energy they expended on housework did not tax their capacity. 
The real problem must be something else, he decided—perhaps 
boredom. Some doctors told their women patients they must get out of 
the house for a day, treat themselves to a movie in town. Others 
prescribed tranquilizers. Many suburban housewives were taking 
tranquilizers like cough drops. “You wake up in the morning, and you 
feel as if there’s no point in going on another day like this. So you 
take a tranquilizer because it makes you not care so much that it’s 
pointless.” 

It is easy to see the concrete details that trap the suburban 
housewife, the continual demands on her time. But the chains that 
bind her in her trap are chains in her own mind and spirit. They are 



chains made up of mistaken ideas and misinterpreted facts, of 
incomplete truths and unreal choices. They are not easily seen and not 
easily shaken off. 

How can any woman see the whole truth within the bounds of her 
own life? How can she believe that voice inside herself, when it 
denies the conventional, accepted truths by which she has been 
living? And yet the women I have talked to, who are finally listening 
to that inner voice, seem in some incredible way to be groping 
through to a truth that has defied the experts. 

I think the experts in a great many fields have been holding pieces 
of that truth under their microscopes for a long time without realizing 
it. I found pieces of it in certain new research and theoretical 
developments in psychological, social and biological science whose 
implications for women seem never to have been examined. I found 
many clues by talking to suburban doctors, gynecologists, 
obstetricians, child-guidance clinicians, pediatricians, high-school 
guidance counselors, college professors, marriage counselors, 
psychiatrists and ministers—questioning them not on their theories, 
but on their actual experience in treating American women. I became 
aware of a growing body of evidence, much of which has not been 
reported publicly because it does not fit current modes of thought 
about women—evidence which throws into question the standards of 
feminine normality, feminine adjustment, feminine fulfillment, and 
feminine maturity by which most women are still trying to live. 

I began to see in a strange new light the American return to early 
marriage and the large families that are causing the population 
explosion; the recent movement to natural childbirth and 
breastfeeding; suburban conformity, and the new neuroses, character 
pathologies and sexual problems being reported by the doctors. I 
began to see new dimensions to old problems that have long been 
taken for granted among women: menstrual difficulties, sexual 
frigidity, promiscuity, pregnancy fears, childbirth depression, the 
high incidence of emotional breakdown and suicide among women in 
their twenties and thirties, the menopause crises, the so-called 
passivity and immaturity of American men, the discrepancy between 
women’s tested intellectual abilities in childhood and their adult 
achievement, the changing incidence of adult sexual orgasm in 
American women, and persistent problems in psychotherapy and in 
women’s education. 

If I am right, the problem that has no name stirring in the minds of 



so many American women today is not a matter of loss of femininity 
or too much education, or the demands of domesticity. It is far more 
important than anyone recognizes. It is the key to these other new and 
old problems which have been torturing women and their husbands 
and children, and puzzling their doctors and educators for years. It 
may well be the key to our future as a nation and a culture. We can no 
longer ignore that voice within women that says: “I want something 
more than my husband and my children and my home.” 



The Happy Housewife Heroine 


Why have so many American wives suffered this nameless aching 
dissatisfaction for so many years, each one thinking she was alone? 
“I’ve got tears in my eyes with sheer relief that my own inner turmoil 
is shared with other women,” a young Connecticut mother wrote me 
when I first began to put this problem into words.- A woman from a 
town in Ohio wrote: “The times when I felt that the only answer was 
to consult a psychiatrist, times of anger, bitterness and general 
frustration too numerous to even mention, I had no idea that hundreds 
of other women were feeling the same way I felt so completely 
alone.” A Houston, Texas, housewife wrote: “It has been the feeling 
of being almost alone with my problem that has made it so hard. I 
thank God for my family, home and the chance to care for them, but 
my life couldn’t stop there. It is an awakening to know that I’m not an 
oddity and can stop being ashamed of wanting something more.” 

That painful guilty silence, and that tremendous relief when a 
feeling is finally out in the open, are familiar psychological signs. 
What need, what part of themselves, could so many women today be 
repressing? In this age after Freud, sex is immediately suspect. But 
this new stirring in women does not seem to be sex; it is, in fact, 
much harder for women to talk about than sex. Could there be another 
need, a part of themselves they have buried as deeply as the Victorian 
women buried sex? 

If there is, a woman might not know what it was, any more than 
the Victorian woman knew she had sexual needs. The image of a 
good woman by which Victorian ladies lived simply left out sex. 
Does the image by which modern American women live also leave 
something out, the proud and public image of the high-school girl 
going steady, the college girl in love, the suburban housewife with an 
up-and-coming husband and a station wagon full of children? This 
image—created by the women’s magazines, by advertisements, 
television, movies, novels, columns and books by experts on 
marriage and the family, child psychology, sexual adjustment and by 


the popularizers of sociology and psychoanalysis—shapes women’s 
lives today and mirrors their dreams. It may give a clue to the 
problem that has no name, as a dream gives a clue to a wish unnamed 
by the dreamer. In the mind’s ear, a geiger counter clicks when the 
image shows too sharp a discrepancy from reality. A geiger counter 
clicked in my own inner ear when I could not fit the quiet desperation 
of so many women into the picture of the modern American 
housewife that I myself was helping to create, writing for the 
women’s magazines. What is missing from the image which shapes 
the American woman’s pursuit of fulfillment as a wife and mother? 
What is missing from the image that mirrors and creates the identity 
of women in America today? 

In the early 1960’s McCall’s has been the fastest growing of the 
women’s magazines. Its contents are a fairly accurate representation 
of the image of the American woman presented, and in part created, 
by the large-circulation magazines. Here are the complete editorial 
contents of a typical issue of McCall’s (July, 1960): 


1. A lead article on “increasing baldness in women,” caused 
by too much brushing and dyeing. 

2. A long poem in primer-size type about a child, called “A 
Boy Is A Boy.” 

3. A short story about how a teenager who doesn’t go to 
college gets a man away from a bright college girl. 

4. A short story about the minute sensations of a baby 
throwing his bottle out of the crib. 

5. The first of a two-part intimate “up-to-date” account by the 
Duke of Windsor on “How the Duchess and I now live and 
spend our time. The influence of clothes on me and vice 
versa.” 

6. A short story about a nineteen-year-old girl sent to a charm 
school to learn how to bat her eyelashes and lose at te nni s. 
(“You’re nineteen, and by normal American standards, I 
now am entitled to have you taken off my hands, legally and 
financially, by some beardless youth who will spirit you 
away to a one-and-a-half-room apartment in the Village 
while he learns the chicanery of selling bonds. And no 



beardless youth is going to do that as long as you volley to 
his backhand.”) 

7. The story of a honeymoon couple commuting between 
separate bedrooms after an argument over gambling at Las 
Vegas. 

8. An article on “how to overcome an inferiority complex.” 

9. A story called “Wedding Day.” 

10. The story of a teenager’s mother who learns how to dance 
rock-and-roll. 

11. Six pages of glamorous pictures of models in maternity 
clothes. 

12. Four glamorous pages on “reduce the way the models do.” 

13. An article on airline delays. 

14. Patterns for home sewing. 

15. Patterns with which to make “Folding Screens— 
Bewitching Magic.” 

16. An article called “An Encyclopedic Approach to Finding a 
Second Husband.” 

17. A “barbecue bonanza,” dedicated “to the Great American 
Mister who stands, chef’s cap on head, fork in hand, on 
terrace or back porch, in patio or backyard anywhere in the 
land, watching his roast turning on the spit. And to his wife, 
without whom (sometimes) the barbecue could never be the 
smashing summer success it undoubtedly is...” 


There were also the regular ffont-of-the-book “service” columns 
on new drug and medicine developments, child-care facts, columns 
by Clare Luce and by Eleanor Roosevelt, and “Pats and Pans,” a 
column of readers’ letters. 

The image of woman that emerges from this big, pretty magazine 
is young and frivolous, almost childlike; fluffy and feminine; passive; 
gaily content in a world of bedroom and kitchen, sex, babies, and 
home. The magazine surely does not leave out sex; the only passion, 
the only pursuit, the only goal a woman is permitted is the pursuit of a 
man. It is crammed full of food, clothing, cosmetics, furniture, and the 
physical bodies of young women, but where is the world of thought 
and ideas, the life of the mind and spirit? In the magazine image, 
women do no work except housework and work to keep their bodies 
beautiful and to get and keep a man. 



This was the image of the American woman in the year Castro led 
a revolution in Cuba and men were trained to travel into outer space; 
the year that the African continent brought forth new nations, and a 
plane whose speed is greater than the speed of sound broke up a 
Summit Conference; the year artists picketed a great museum in 
protest against the hegemony of abstract art; physicists explored the 
concept of anti-matter; astronomers, because of new radio 
telescopes, had to alter their concepts of the expanding universe; 
biologists made a breakthrough in the fundamental chemistry of life; 
and Negro youth in Southern schools forced the United States, for the 
first time since the Civil War, to face a moment of democratic truth. 
But this magazine, published for over 5,000,000 American women, 
almost all of whom have been through high school and nearly half to 
college, contained almost no mention of the world beyond the home. 
In the second half of the twentieth century in America, woman’s 
world was confined to her own body and beauty, the charming of 
man, the bearing of babies, and the physical care and serving of 
husband, children, and home. And this was no anomaly of a single 
issue of a single women’s magazine. 

I sat one night at a meeting of magazine writers, mostly men, who 
work for all kinds of magazines, including women’s magazines. The 
main speaker was a leader of the desegregation battle. Before he 
spoke, another man outlined the needs of the large women’s magazine 
he edited: 

Our readers are housewives, full time. They’re not interested 
in the broad public issues of the day. They are not interested in 
national or international affairs. They are only interested in the 
family and the home. They aren’t interested in politics, unless 
it’s related to an immediate need in the home, like the price of 
coffee. Humor? Has to be gentle, they don’t get satire. Travel? 
We have almost completely dropped it. Education? That’s a 
problem. Their own education level is going up. They’ve 
generally all had a high-school education and many, college. 
They’re tremendously interested in education for their children 
—fourth-grade arithmetic. You just can’t write about ideas or 
broad issues of the day for women. That’s why we’re publishing 
90 per cent service now and 10 per cent general interest. 



Another editor agreed, adding plaintively: “Can’t you give us 
something else besides ‘there’s death in your medicine cabinet’? 
Can’t any of you dream up a new crisis for women? We’re always 
interested in sex, of course.” 

At this point, the writers and editors spent an hour listening to 
Thurgood Marshall on the inside story of the desegregation battle, 
and its possible effect on the presidential election. “Too bad I can’t 
run that story,” one editor said. “But you just can’t link it to woman’s 
world.” 

As I listened to them, a German phrase echoed in my mind 
—“ Kinder, Kuche, Kirche ,” the slogan by which the Nazis decreed 
that women must once again be co nfi ned to their biological role. But 
this was not Nazi Germany. This was America. The whole world lies 
open to American women. Why, then, does the image deny the world? 
Why does it limit women to “one passion, one role, one occupation?” 
Not long ago, women dreamed and fought for equality, their own 
place in the world. What happened to their dreams; when did women 
decide to give up the world and go back home? 

A geologist brings up a core of mud from the bottom of the ocean and 
sees layers of sediment as sharp as a razor blade deposited over the 
years—clues to changes in the geological evolution of the earth so 
vast that they would go unnoticed during the lifespan of a single man. 
I sat for many days in the New York Public Library, going back 
through bound volumes of American women’s magazines for the last 
twenty years. I found a change in the image of the American woman, 
and in the boundaries of the woman’s world, as sharp and puzzling as 
the changes revealed in cores of ocean sediment. 

In 1939, the heroines of women’s magazine stories were not 
always young, but in a certain sense they were younger than their 
fictional counterparts today. They were young in the same way that 
the American hero has always been young: they were New Women, 
creating with a gay determined spirit a new identity for women—a 
life of their own. There was an aura about them of becoming, of 
moving into a future that was going to be different from the past. The 
majority of heroines in the four major women’s magazines (then 
Ladies’ Home Journal, McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s 
Home Companion) were career women—happily, proudly, 
adventurously, attractively career women—who loved and were 
loved by men. And the spirit, courage, independence, determination 



—the strength of character they showed in their work as nurses, 
teachers, artists, actresses, copywriters, saleswomen—were part of 
their charm There was a definite aura that their individuality was 
something to be admired, not unattractive to men, that men were 
drawn to them as much for their spirit and character as for their 
looks. 

These were the mass women’s magazines—in their heyday The 
stories were conventional: girl-meets-boy or girl-gets-boy. But very 
often this was not the major theme of the story These heroines were 
usually marching toward some goal or vision of their own, struggling 
with some problem of work or the world, when they found their man. 
And this New Woman, less fluffily feminine, so independent and 
determined to find a new life of her own, was the heroine of a 
different kind of love story. She was less aggressive in pursuit of a 
man. Her passionate involvement with the world, her own sense of 
herself as an individual, her self-reliance, gave a different flavor to 
her relationship with the man. 

The heroine and hero of one of these stories meet and fall in love 
at an ad agency where they both work. “I don’t want to put you in a 
garden behind a wall,” the hero says. “I want you to walk with me 
hand in hand, and together we could accomplish whatever we wanted 
to” (“A Dream to Share,” Redbook, January, 1939). 

These New Women were almost never housewives; in fact, the 
stories usually ended before they had children. They were young 
because the future was open. But they seemed, in another sense, much 
older, more mature than the childlike, kittenish young housewife 
heroines today. One, for example, is a nurse (“Mother-in-Law,” 
Ladies’ Home Journal , June, 1939). “She was, he thought, very 
lovely. She hadn’t an ounce of picture book prettiness, but there was 
strength in her hands, pride in her carriage and nobility in the lift of 
her chin, in her blue eyes. She had been on her own ever since she 
left training, nine years ago. She had earned her way, she need 
consider nothing but her heart.” 

One heroine runs away from home when her mother insists she 
must make her debut instead of going on an expedition as a geologist. 
Her passionate determination to live her own life does not keep this 
New Woman from loving a man, but it makes her rebel from her 
parents; just as the young hero often must leave home to grow up. 
“You’ve got more courage than any girl I ever saw. You have what it 
takes,” says the boy who helps her get away (“Have a Good Time, 



Dear,” Ladies ’ Home Journal, May, 1939). 

Often, there was a conflict between some commitment to her work 
and the man. But the moral, in 1939, was that if she kept her 
commitment to herself, she did not lose the man, if he was the right 
man. A young widow (“Between the Dark and the Daylight,” Ladies ’ 
Home Journal, February, 1939) sits in her office, debating whether 
to stay and correct the important mistake she has made on the job, or 
keep her date with a man. She thinks back on her marriage, her baby, 
her husband’s death.. .“the time afterward which held the struggle for 
clear judgment, not being afraid of new and better jobs, of having 
confidence in one’s decisions.” How can the boss expect her to give 
up her date! But she stays on the job. “They’d put their life’s blood 
into this campaign. She couldn’t let him down.” She finds her man, 
too—the boss! 

These stories may not have been great literature. But the identity 
of their heroines seemed to say something about the housewives who, 
then as now, read the women’s magazines. These magazines were not 
written for career women. The New Woman heroines were the ideal 
of yesterday’s housewives; they reflected the dreams, mirrored the 
yearning for identity and the sense of possibility that existed for 
women then. And if women could not have these dreams for 
themselves, they wanted their daughters to have them They wanted 
their daughters to be more than housewives, to go out in the world 
that had been denied them. 

It is like remembering a long-forgotten dream, to recapture the 
memory of what a career meant to women before “career woman” 
became a dirty word in America. Jobs meant money, of course, at the 
end of the depression. But the readers of these magazines were not 
the women who got the jobs; career meant more than job. It seemed to 
mean doing something, being somebody yourself, not just existing in 
and through others. 

I found the last clear note of the passionate search for individual 
identity that a career seems to have symbolized in the pre-1950 
decades in a story called “Sarah and the Seaplane” {Ladies ’ Home 
Journal, February, 1949). Sarah, who for nineteen years has played 
the part of docile daughter, is secretly learning to fly. She misses her 
flying lesson to accompany her mother on a round of social calls. An 
elderly doctor houseguest says: “My dear Sarah, every day, all the 
time, you are committing suicide. It’s a greater crime than not 
pleasing others, not doing justice to yourself.” Sensing some secret, 



he asks if she is in love. “She found it difficult to answer. In love? In 
love with the good-natured, the beautiful Henry [the flying teacher]? 
In love with the flashing water and the lift of wings at the instant of 
freedom, and the vision of the smiling, limitless world? ‘Yes,’ she 
answered, ‘I think I am.’” 

The next morning, Sarah solos. Henry “stepped away, slamming 
the cabin door shut, and swung the ship about for her. She was alone. 
There was a heady moment when everything she had learned left her, 
when she had to adjust herself to be alone, entirely alone in the 
familiar cabin. Then she drew a deep breath and suddenly a 
wonderful sense of competence made her sit erect and smiling. She 
was alone! She was answerable to herself alone, and she was 
sufficient. 

“‘I can do it!’ she told herself aloud.... The wind flew back from 
the floats in glittering streaks, and then effortlessly the ship lifted 
itself free and soared.” Even her mother can’t stop her now from 
getting her flying license. She is not “afraid of discovering my own 
way of life.” In bed that night she smiles sleepily, remembering how 
Henry had said, “You’re my girl.” 

“Henry’s girl! She smiled. No, she was not Henry’s girl. She was 
Sarah. And that was sufficient. And with such a late start it would be 
some time before she got to know herself. Half in a dream now, she 
wondered if at the end of that time she would need someone else and 
who it would be.” 

And then suddenly the image blurs. The New Woman, soaring free, 
hesitates in midflight, shivers in all that blue sunlight and rushes back 
to the cozy walls of home. In the same year that Sarah soloed, the 
Ladies’ Home Journal printed the prototype of the innumerable 
paeans to “Occupation: housewife” that started to appear in the 
women’s magazines, paeans that resounded throughout the fifties. 
They usually begin with a woman complaining that when she has to 
write “housewife” on the census blank, she gets an inferiority 
complex. (“When I write it I realize that here I am, a middle-aged 
woman, with a university education, and I’ve never made anything 
out of my life. I’m just a housewife.”) Then the author of the paean, 
who somehow never is a housewife (in this case, Dorothy Thompson, 
newspaper woman, foreign correspondent, famous columnist, in 
Ladies’ Home Journal , March, 1949), roars with laughter. The 
trouble with you, she scolds, is you don’t realize you are expert in a 



dozen careers, simultaneously. “You might write: business manager, 
cook, nurse, chauffeur, dressmaker, interior decorator, accountant, 
caterer, teacher, private secretary—or just put down philanthropist. 

.. .All your life you have been giving away your energies, your skills, 
your talents, your services, for love.” But still, the housewife 
complains, I’m nearly fifty and I’ve never done what I hoped to do in 
my youth—music—I’ve wasted my college education. 

Ho-ho, laughs Miss Thompson, aren’t your children musical 
because of you, and all those struggling years while your husband 
was finishing his great work, didn’t you keep a charming home on 
$3,000 a year, and make all your children’s clothes and your own, 
and paper the living room yourself, and watch the markets like a 
hawk for bargains? And in time off, didn’t you type and proofread 
your husband’s manuscripts, plan festivals to make up the church 
deficit, play piano duets with the children to make practicing more 
fun, read their books in high school to follow their study? “But all 
this vicarious living—through others,” the housewife sighs. “As 
vicarious as Napoleon Bonaparte,” Miss Thompson scoffs, “or a 
Queen. I simply refuse to share your self-pity. You are one of the 
most successful women I know.” 

As for not earning any money, the argument goes, let the 
housewife compute the cost of her services. Women can save more 
money by their managerial talents inside the home than they can bring 
into it by outside work. As for woman’s spirit being broken by the 
boredom of household tasks, maybe the genius of some women has 
been thwarted, but “a world full of feminine genius, but poor in 
children, would come rapidly to an end....Great men have great 
mothers.” 

And the American housewife is reminded that Catholic countries 
in the Middle Ages “elevated the gentle and inconspicuous Mary into 
the Queen of Heaven, and built their loveliest cathedrals to ‘Notre 
Dame—Our Lady.’...The homemaker, the nurturer, the creator of 
children’s environment is the constant recreator of culture, 
civilization, and virtue. Assuming that she is doing well that great 
managerial task and creative activity, let her write her occupation 
proudly: ‘housewife.’” 

In 1949, th q Ladies’ Home Journal also ran Margaret Mead’s 
Male and Female. All the magazines were echoing Far nha m and 
Lundberg’s Modern Woman: The Lost Sex , which came out in 1942, 
with its warning that careers and higher education were leading to the 



“masculinization of women with enormously dangerous consequences 
to the home, the children dependent on it and to the ability of the 
woman, as well as her husband, to obtain sexual gratification.” 

And so the feminine mystique began to spread through the land, 
grafted onto old prejudices and comfortable conventions which so 
easily give the past a stranglehold on the future. Behind the new 
mystique were concepts and theories deceptive in their sophistication 
and their assumption of accepted truth. These theories were 
supposedly so complex that they were inaccessible to all but a few 
initiates, and therefore irrefutable. It will be necessary to break 
through this wall of mystery and look more closely at these complex 
concepts, these accepted truths, to understand fully what has 
happened to American women. 

The feminine mystique says that the highest value and the only 
commitment for women is the fulfillment of their own femininity. It 
says that the great mistake of Western culture, through most of its 
history, has been the undervaluation of this femininity. It says this 
femininity is so mysterious and intuitive and close to the creation and 
origin of life that man-made science may never be able to understand 
it. But however special and different, it is in no way inferior to the 
nature of man; it may even in certain respects be superior. The 
mistake, says the mystique, the root of women’s troubles in the past is 
that women envied men, women tried to be like men, instead of 
accepting their own nature, which can find fulfillment only in sexual 
passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love. 

But the new image this mystique gives to American women is the 
old image: “Occupation: housewife.” The new mystique makes the 
housewife-mothers, who never had a chance to be anything else, the 
model for all women; it presupposes that history has reached a final 
and glorious end in the here and now, as far as women are concerned. 
Beneath the sophisticated trappings, it simply makes certain concrete, 
finite, domestic aspects of feminine existence—as it was lived by 
women whose lives were confined, by necessity, to cooking, 
cleaning, washing, bearing children—into a religion, a pattern by 
which all women must now live or deny their femininity. 

Fulfillment as a woman had only one definition for American 
women after 1949—the housewife-mother. As swiftly as in a dream, 
the image of the American woman as a changing, growing individual 
in a changing world was shattered. Her solo flight to find her own 
identity was forgotten in the rush for the security of togetherness. Her 



limitless world shrunk to the cozy walls of home. 

The transformation, reflected in the pages of the women’s 
magazines, was sharply visible in 1949 and progressive through the 
fifties. “Femininity Begins at Home,” “It’s a Man’s World Maybe,” 
“Have Babies While You’re Young,” “How to Snare a Male,” 
“Should I Stop Work When We Marry?” “Are You Training Your 
Daughter to Be a Wife?” “Careers at Home,” “Do Women Have to 
Talk So Much?” “Why GI’s Prefer Those German Girls,” “What 
Women Can Learn from Mother Eve,” “Really a Man’s World, 
Politics,” “How to Hold On to a Happy Marriage,” “Don’t Be Afraid 
to Marry Young,” “The Doctor Talks about Breast-Feeding,” “Our 
Baby was Born at Home,” “Cooking to Me Is Poetry,” “The Business 
of Running a Home.” 

By the end of 1949, only one out of three heroines in the women’s 
magazines was a career woman—and she was shown in the act of 
renouncing her career and discovering that what she really wanted to 
be was a housewife. In 1958, and again in 1959,1 went through issue 
after issue of the three major women’s magazines (the fourth, 
Woman s Home Companion , had died) without finding a single 
heroine who had a career, a commitment to any work, art, profession, 
or mission in the world, other than “Occupation: housewife.” Only 
one in a hundred heroines had a job; even the young unmarried 
heroines no longer worked except at snaring a husband.- 

These new happy housewife heroines seem strangely younger than 
the spirited career girls of the thirties and forties. They seem to get 
younger all the time—in looks, and a childlike kind of dependence. 
They have no vision of the future, except to have a baby. The only 
active growing figure in their world is the child. The housewife 
heroines are forever young, because their own image ends in 
childbirth. Like Peter Pan, they must remain young while their 
children grow up with the world. They must keep on having babies, 
because the feminine mystique says there is no other way for a 
woman to be a heroine. Here is a typical specimen from a story 
called “The Sandwich Maker” (Ladies ’ Home Journal , April, 1959). 
She took home economics in college, learned how to cook, never 
held a job, and still plays the child bride, though she now has three 
children of her own. Her problem is money. “Oh, nothing boring, like 
taxes or reciprocal trade agreements, or foreign aid programs. I leave 
all that economic jazz to my constitutionally elected representative in 
Washington, heaven help him” 


The problem is her $42.10 allowance. She hates having to ask her 
husband for money every time she needs a pair of shoes, but he won’t 
trust her with a charge account. “Oh, how I yearned for a little money 
of my own! Not much, really. A few hundred a year would have done 
it. Just enough to meet a friend for lunch occasionally, to indulge in 
extravagantly colored stockings, a few small items, without having to 
appeal to Charley. But, alas, Charley was right. I had never earned a 
dollar in my life, and had no idea of how money was made. So all I 
did for a long time was brood, as I continued with my cooking, 
cleaning, cooking, washing, ironing, cooking.” 

At last the solution comes—she will take orders for sandwiches 
from other men at her husband’s plant. She earns $52.50 a week, 
except that she forgets to count costs, and she doesn’t remember what 
a gross is so she has to hide 8,640 sandwich bags behind the furnace. 
Charley says she’s making the sandwiches too fancy. She explains: 
“If it’s only ham on rye, then I’m just a sandwich maker, and I’m not 
interested. But the extras, the special touches—well, they make it sort 
of creative.” So she chops, wraps, peels, seals, spreads bread, 
starting at dawn and never finished, for $9.00 net, until she is 
disgusted by the smell of food, and finally staggers downstairs after a 
sleepless night to slice a salami for the eight gaping lunch boxes. “It 
was too much. Charley came down just then, and after one quick look 
at me, ran for a glass of water.” She realizes that she is going to have 
another baby. 

“Charley’s first coherent words were ‘I’ll cancel your lunch 
orders. You’re a mother. That’s your job. You don’t have to earn 
money, too.’ It was all so beautifully simple! ‘Yes, boss,’ I murmured 
obediently, frankly relieved.” That night he brings her home a 
checkbook; he will trust her with a joint account. So she decides just 
to keep quiet about the 8,640 sandwich bags. Anyhow, she’ll have 
used them up, making sandwiches for four children to take to school, 
by the time the youngest is ready for college. 

The road from Sarah and the seaplane to the sandwich maker was 
traveled in only ten years. In those ten years, the image of American 
woman seems to have suffered a schizophrenic split. And the split in 
the image goes much further than the savage obliteration of career 
from women’s dreams. 

In an earlier time, the image of woman was also split in two—the 
good, pure woman on the pedestal, and the whore of the desires of 



the flesh. The split in the new image opens a different fissure—the 
feminine woman, whose goodness includes the desires of the flesh, 
and the career woman, whose evil includes every desire of the 
separate self. The new feminine morality story is the exorcising of the 
forbidden career dream, the heroine’s victory over Mephistopheles: 
the devil, first in the form of a career woman, who threatens to take 
away the heroine’s husband or child, and finally, the devil inside the 
heroine herself, the dream of independence, the discontent of spirit, 
and even the feeling of a separate identity that must be exorcised to 
win or keep the love of husband and child. 

In a story in Redbook (“A Man Who Acted Like a Husband,” 
November, 1957) the child-bride heroine, “a little freckle-faced 
brunette” whose nickname is “Junior,” is visited by her old college 
roommate. The roommate Kay is “a man’s girl, really, with a good 
head for business...she wore her polished mahogany hair in a high 
chignon, speared with two chopstick affairs.” Kay is not only 
divorced, but she has also left her child with his grandmother while 
she works in television. This career-woman-devil tempts Junior with 
the lure of a job to keep her from breast-feeding her baby. She even 
restrains the young mother from going to her baby when he cries at 2 
A.M. But she gets her comeuppance when George, the husband, 
discovers the crying baby uncovered, in a freezing wind from an open 
window, with blood running down its cheek. Kay, reformed and 
repentant, plays hookey from her job to go get her own child and start 
life anew. And Junior, gloating at the 2 A.M. feeding—“I’m glad, 
glad, glad I’m just a housewife”—starts to dream about the baby, 
growing up to be a housewife, too. 

With the career woman out of the way, the housewife with 
interests in the community becomes the devil to be exorcised. Even 
PTA takes on a suspect connotation, not to mention interest in some 
international cause (see “Almost a Love Affair,” McCall’s, 
November, 1955). The housewife who simply has a mind of her own 
is the next to go. The heroine of “I Didn’t Want to Tell You” 

( McCall’s , January, 1958) is shown balancing the checkbook by 
herself and arguing with her husband about a small domestic detail. It 
develops that she is losing her husband to a “helpless little widow” 
whose main appeal is that she can’t “think straight” about an 
insurance policy or mortgage. The betrayed wife says: “She must 
have sex appeal and what weapon has a wife against that?” But her 
best friend tells her: “You’re making this too simple. You’re 



forgetting how helpless Tania can be, and how grateful to the man 
who helps her...” 

“I couldn’t be a clinging vine if I tried,” the wife says. “I had a 
better than average job after I left college and I was always a pretty 
independent person. I’m not a helpless little woman and I can’t 
pretend to be.” But she learns, that night. She hears a noise that might 
be a burglar; even though she knows it’s only a mouse, she calls 
helplessly to her husband, and wins him back. As he comforts her 
pretended panic, she murmurs that, of course, he was right in their 
argument that morning. “She lay still in the soft bed, smiling in sweet, 
secret satisfaction, scarcely touched with guilt.” 

The end of the road, in an almost literal sense, is the 
disappearance of the heroine altogether, as a separate self and the 
subject of her own story. The end of the road is togetherness, where 
the woman has no independent self to hide even in guilt; she exists 
only for and through her husband and children. 

Coined by the publishers of McCall’s in 1954, the concept 
“togetherness” was seized upon avidly as a movement of spiritual 
significance by advertisers, ministers, newspaper editors. For a time, 
it was elevated into virtually a national purpose. But very quickly 
there was sharp social criticism, and bitter jokes about 
“togetherness” as a substitute for larger human goals—for men. 
Women were taken to task for making their husbands do housework, 
instead of letting them pioneer in the nation and the world. Why, it 
was asked, should men with the capacities of statesmen, 
anthropologists, physicists, poets, have to wash dishes and diaper 
babies on weekday evenings or Saturday mornings when they might 
use those extra hours to fulfill larger commitments to their society? 

Significantly, critics resented only that men were being asked to 
share “woman’s world.” Few questioned the boundaries of this 
world for women. No one seemed to remember that women were 
once thought to have the capacity and vision of statesmen, poets, and 
physicists. Few saw the big lie of togetherness for women. 

Consider the Easter 1954 issue of McCall’s which announced the 
new era of togetherness, sounding the requiem for the days when 
women fought for and won political equality, and the women’s 
magazines “helped you to carve out large areas of living formerly 
forbidden to your sex.” The new way of life in which “men and 
women in ever-increasing numbers are marrying at an earlier age, 
having children at an earlier age, rearing larger families and gaining 



their deepest satisfaction” from their own homes, is one which “men, 
women and children are achieving together.. .not as women alone, or 
men alone, isolated from one another, but as a family, sharing a 
common experience.” 

The picture essay detailing that way of life is called “a man’s 
place is in the home.” It describes, as the new image and ideal, a 
New Jersey couple with three children in a gray-shingle split-level 
house. Ed and Carol have “centered their lives almost completely 
around their children and their home.” They are shown shopping at 
the supermarket, carpentering, dressing the children, making breakfast 
together. “Then Ed joins the members of his car pool and heads for 
the office.” 

Ed, the husband, chooses the color scheme for the house and 
makes the major decorating decisions. The chores Ed likes are listed: 
putter around the house, make things, paint, select furniture, rugs and 
draperies, dry dishes, read to the children and put them to bed, work 
in the garden, feed and dress and bathe the children, attend PTA 
meetings, cook, buy clothes for his wife, buy groceries. 

Ed doesn’t like these chores: dusting, vacuuming, finishing jobs 
he’s started, hanging draperies, washing pots and pans and dishes, 
picking up after the children, shoveling snow or mowing the lawn, 
changing diapers, taking the baby-sitter home, doing the laundry, 
ironing. Ed, of course, does not do these chores. 

For the sake of every member of the family, the family needs 
a head. This means Father, not Mother.... Children of both sexes 
need to learn, recognize and respect the abilities and functions 
of each sex.... He is not just a substitute mother, even though 
he’s ready and willing to do his share of bathing, feeding, 
comforting, playing. He is a link with the outside world he 
works in. If in that world he is interested, courageous, tolerant, 
constructive, he will pass on these values to his children. 


There were many agonized editorial sessions, in those days at 
McCall’s. “Suddenly, everybody was looking for this spiritual 
significance in togetherness, expecting us to make some mysterious 
religious movement out of the life everyone had been leading for the 
last five years—crawling into the home, turning their backs on the 
world—but we never could find a way of showing it that wasn’t a 



monstrosity of dullness,” a former McCall’s editor reminisces. “It 
always boiled down to, goody, goody, goody, Daddy is out there in 
the garden barbecuing. We put men in the fashion pictures and the 
food pictures, and even the perfume pictures. But we were stifled by 
it editorially. 

“We had articles by psychiatrists that we couldn’t use because 
they would have blown it wide open: all those couples propping their 
whole weight on their kids. But what else could you do with 
togetherness but child care? We were pathetically grateful to find 
anything else where we could show father photographed with mother. 
Sometimes, we used to wonder what would happen to women, with 
men taking over the decorating, child care, cooking, all the things that 
used to be hers alone. But we couldn’t show women getting out of the 
home and having a career. The irony is, what we meant to do was to 
stop editing for women as women, and edit for the men and women 
together. We wanted to edit for people, not women.” 

But forbidden to join man in the world, can women be people? 
Forbidden independence, they finally are swallowed in an image of 
such passive dependence that they want men to make the decisions, 
even in the home. The frantic illusion that togetherness can impart a 
spiritual content to the dullness of domestic routine, the need for a 
religious movement to make up for the lack of identity, betrays the 
measure of women’s loss and the emptiness of the image. Could 
making men share the housework compensate women for their loss of 
the world? Could vacuuming the living-room floor together give the 
housewife some mysterious new purpose in life? 

In 1956, at the peak of togetherness, the bored editors of 
McCall’s ran a little article called “The Mother Who Ran Away.” To 
their amazement, it brought the highest readership of any article they 
had ever run. “It was our moment of truth,” said a former editor. “We 
suddenly realized that all those women at home with their three and a 
half children were miserably unhappy.” 

But by then the new image of American woman, “Occupation: 
housewife,” had hardened into a mystique, unquestioned and 
permitting no questions, shaping the very reality it distorted. 

By the time I started writing for women’s magazines, in the fifties, 
it was simply taken for granted by editors, and accepted as an 
immutable fact of life by writers, that women were not interested in 
politics, life outside the United States, national issues, art, science, 
ideas, adventure, education, or even their own communities, except 



where they could be sold through their emotions as wives and 
mothers. 

Politics, for women, became Mamie’s clothes and the Nixons’ 
home life. Out of conscience, a sense of duty, the Ladies ’ Home 
Journal might run a series like “Political Pilgrim’s Progress,” 
showing women trying to improve their children’s schools and 
playgrounds. But even approaching politics through mother love did 
not really interest women, it was thought in the trade. Everyone knew 
those readership percentages. An editor of Redbook ingeniously tried 
to bring the bomb down to the feminine level by showing the 
emotions of a wife whose husband sailed into a contaminated area. 

“Women can’t take an idea, an issue, pure,” men who edited the 
mass women’s magazines agreed. “It has to be translated in terms 
they can understand as women.” This was so well understood by 
those who wrote for women’s magazines that a natural childbirth 
expert submitted an article to a leading woman’s magazine called 
“How to Have a Baby in an Atom Bomb Shelter.” “The article was 
not well written,” an editor told me, “or we might have bought it.” 
According to the mystique, women, in their mysterious femininity, 
might be interested in the concrete biological details of having a baby 
in a bomb shelter, but never in the abstract idea of the bomb’s power 
to destroy the human race. 

Such a belief, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In 
1960, a perceptive social psychologist showed me some sad 
statistics which seemed to prove unmistakably that American women 
under thirty-five are not interested in politics. “They may have the 
vote, but they don’t dream about running for office,” he told me. “If 
you write a political piece, they won’t read it. You have to translate 
it into issues they can understand—romance, pregnancy, nursing, 
home furnishings, clothes. Run an article on the economy, or the race 
question, civil rights, and you’d think that women had never heard of 
them.” 

Maybe they hadn’t heard of them. Ideas are not like instincts of the 
blood that spring into the mind intact. They are communicated by 
education, by the printed word. The new young housewives, who 
leave high school or college to marry, do not read books, the 
psychological surveys say. They only read magazines. Magazines 
today assume women are not interested in ideas. But going back to 
the bound volumes in the library, I found in the thirties and forties that 
the mass-circulation magazines like Ladies ’ Home Journal carried 



hundreds of articles about the world outside the home. “The first 
inside story of American diplomatic relations preceding declared 
war” “Can the U. S. Have Peace After This War?” by Walter 
Lippman; “Stalin at Midnight,” by Harold Stassen; “General Stilwell 
Reports on China” articles about the last days of Czechoslovakia by 
Vincent Sheean; the persecution of Jews in Germany; the New Deal; 
Carl Sandburg’s account of Lincoln’s assassination; Faulkner’s 
stories of Mississippi, and Margaret Sanger’s battle for birth control. 

In the 1950’s they printed virtually no articles except those that 
serviced women as housewives, or described women as housewives, 
or permitted a purely feminine identification like the Duchess of 
Windsor or Princess Margaret. “If we get an article about a woman 
who does anything adventurous, out of the way, something by herself, 
you know, we figure she must be terribly aggressive, neurotic,” a 
Ladies’ Home Journal editor told me. Margaret Sanger would never 
get in today. 

In 1960,1 saw statistics that showed that women under thirty-five 
could not identify with a spirited heroine of a story who worked in an 
ad agency and persuaded the boy to stay and fight for his principles in 
the big city instead of running home to the security of a family 
business. Nor could these new young housewives identify with a 
young minister, acting on his belief in defiance of convention. But 
they had no trouble at all identifying with a young man paralyzed at 
eighteen. (“I regained consciousness to discover that I could not 
move or even speak. I could wiggle only one finger of one hand.” 
With help from faith and a psychiatrist, “I am now finding reasons to 
live as fully as possible.”) 

Does it say something about the new housewife readers that, as 
any editor can testify, they can identify completely with the victims of 
blindness, deafness, physical maiming, cerebral palsy, paralysis, 
cancer, or approaching death? Such articles about people who cannot 
see or speak or move have been an enduring staple of the women’s 
magazines in the era of “Occupation: housewife.” They are told with 
infinitely realistic detail over and over again, replacing the articles 
about the nation, the world, ideas, issues, art and science; replacing 
the stories about adventurous spirited women. And whether the 
victim is man, woman or child, whether the living death is incurable 
cancer or creeping paralysis, the housewife reader can identify. 

Writing for these magazines, I was continually reminded by 
editors “that women have to identify.” Once I wanted to write an 



article about an artist. So I wrote about her cooking and marketing 
and falling in love with her husband, and painting a crib for her baby. 
I had to leave out the hours she spent painting pictures, her serious 
work—and the way she felt about it. You could sometimes get away 
with writing about a woman who was not really a housewife, if you 
made her sound like a housewife, if you left out her commitment to 
the world outside the home, or the private vision of mind or spirit 
that she pursued. In February, 1949, the Ladies’ Home Journal ran a 
feature, “Poet’s Kitchen,” showing Edna St. Vincent Millay cooking. 
“Now I expect to hear no more about housework’s being beneath 
anyone, for if one of the greatest poets of our day, and any day, can 
find beauty in simple household tasks, this is the end of the old 
controversy.” 

The one “career woman” who was always welcome in the pages 
of the women’s magazines was the actress. But her image also 
underwent a remarkable change: from a complex individual of fiery 
temper, inner depth, and a mysterious blend of spirit and sexuality, to 
a sexual object, a babyface bride, or a housewife. Think of Greta 
Garbo, for instance, and Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Rosalind 
Russell, Katherine Hepburn. Then think of Marilyn Monroe, Debbie 
Reynolds, Brigitte Bardot, and “I Love Lucy.” 

When you wrote about an actress for a women’s magazine, you 
wrote about her as a housewife. You never showed her doing or 
enjoying her work as an actress, unless she eventually paid for it by 
losing her husband or her child, or otherwise admitting failure as a 
woman. A Redbook profile of Judy Holliday (June, 1957) described 
how “a brilliant woman begins to find in her work the joy she never 
found in life.” On the screen, we are told, she plays “with warmth 
and conviction the part of a mature, intelligent wife and expectant 
mother, a role unlike anything she had previously attempted.” She 
must find fulfillment in her career because she is divorced from her 
husband, has “strong feelings of inadequacy as a woman.... It is a 
frustrating irony of Judy’s life, that as an actress she has succeeded 
almost without trying, although, as a woman, she has failed...” 

Strangely enough, as the feminine mystique spread, denying 
women careers or any commitment outside the home, the proportion 
of American women working outside the home increased to one out 
of three. True, two out of three were still housewives, but why, at the 
moment when the doors of the world were finally open to all women, 
should the mystique deny the very dreams that had stirred women for 



a century? 

I found a clue one morning, sitting in the office of a women’s 
magazine editor—a woman who, older than I, remembers the days 
when the old image was being created, and who had watched it being 
displaced. The old image of the spirited career girl was largely 
created by writers and editors who were women, she told me. The 
new image of woman as housewife-mother has been largely created 
by writers and editors who are men. 

“Most of the material used to come from women writers,” she 
said, almost nostalgically. “As the young men returned from the war, 
a great many women writers dropped out of the field. The young 
women started having a lot of children, and stopped writing. The new 
writers were all men, back from the war, who had been dreaming 
about home, and a cozy domestic life.” One by one, the creators of 
the gay “career girl” heroines of the thirties began to retire. By the 
end of the forties, the writers who couldn’t get the knack of writing in 
the new housewife image had left the women’s magazine field. The 
new magazine pros were men, and a few women who could write 
comfortably according to the housewife formula. Other people began 
to assemble backstage at the women’s magazines: there was a new 
kind of woman writer who lived in the housewife image, or 
pretended to; and there was a new kind of woman’s editor or 
publisher, less interested in ideas to reach women’s minds and 
hearts, than in selling them the things that interest advertisers— 
appliances, detergents, lipstick. Today, the deciding voice on most of 
these magazines is cast by men. Women often carry out the formulas, 
women edit the housewife “service” departments, but the formulas 
themselves, which have dictated the new housewife image, are the 
product of men’s minds. 

Also during the forties and fifties, serious fiction writers of either 
sex disappeared from the mass-circulation women’s magazines. In 
fact, fiction of any quality was almost completely replaced by a 
different kind of article. No longer the old article about issues or 
ideas, but the new “service” feature. Sometimes these articles 
lavished the artistry of a poet and the honesty of a crusading reporter 
on baking chiffon pies, or buying washing machines, or the miracles 
paint can do for a living room, or diets, drugs, clothes, and cosmetics 
to make the body into a vision of physical beauty. Sometimes they 
dealt with very sophisticated ideas: new developments in psychiatry, 
child psychology, sex and marriage, medicine. It was assumed that 



women readers could take these ideas, which appealed to their needs 
as wives and mothers, but only if they were boiled down to concrete 
physical details, spelled out in terms of the daily life of an average 
housewife with concrete do’s and don’ts. How to keep your husband 
happy; how to solve your child’s bedwetting; how to keep death out 
of your medicine cabinet... 

But here is a curious thing. Within their narrow range, these 
women’s magazine articles, whether straight service to the housewife 
or a documentary report about the housewife, were almost always 
superior in quality to women’s magazine fiction. They were better 
written, more honest, more sophisticated. This observation was made 
over and over again by intelligent readers and puzzled editors, and by 
writers themselves. “The serious fiction writers have become too 
internal. They’re inaccessible to our readers, so we’re left with the 
formula writers,” an editor of Redbook said. And yet, in the old days, 
serious writers like Nancy Hale, even William Faulkner, wrote for 
the women’s magazines and were not considered inaccessible. 
Perhaps the new image of woman did not permit the internal honesty, 
the depth of perception, and the human truth essential to good fiction. 

At the very least, fiction requires a hero or, understandably for 
women’s magazines, a heroine, who is an “I” in pursuit of some 
human goal or dream. There is a limit to the number of stories that 
can be written about a girl in pursuit of a boy, or a housewife in 
pursuit of a ball of dust under the sofa. Thus the service article takes 
over, replacing the internal honesty and truth needed in fiction with a 
richness of honest, objective, concrete, realistic domestic detail—the 
color of walls or lipstick, the exact temperature of the oven. 

Judging from the women’s magazines today, it would seem that 
the concrete details of women’s lives are more interesting than their 
thoughts, their ideas, their dreams. Or does the richness and realism 
of the detail, the careful description of small events, mask the lack of 
dreams, the vacuum of ideas, the terrible boredom that has settled 
over the American housewife? 

I sat in the office of another old-timer, one of the few women editors 
left in the women’s magazine world, now so largely dominated by 
men. She explained her share in creating the feminine mystique. 
“Many of us were psychoanalyzed,” she recalled. “And we began to 
feel embarrassed about being career women ourselves. There was 
this terrible fear that we were losing our femininity. We kept looking 



for ways to help women accept their feminine role.” 

If the real women editors were not, somehow, able to give up 
their own careers, all the more reason to “help” other women fulfill 
themselves as wives and mothers. The few women who still sit in 
editorial conferences do not bow to the feminine mystique in their 
own lives. But such is the power of the image they have helped create 
that many of them feel guilty. And if they have missed out somewhere 
on love or children, they wonder if their careers were to blame. 

Behind her cluttered desk, a Mademoiselle editor said uneasily, 
“The girls we bring in now as college guest editors seem almost to 
pity us. Because we are career women, I suppose. At a luncheon 
session with the last bunch, we asked them to go round the table, 
telling us their own career plans. Not one of the twenty raised her 
hand. When I remember how I worked to learn this job and loved it 
—were we all crazy then?” 

Coupled with the women editors who sold themselves their own 
bill of goods, a new breed of women writers began to write about 
themselves as if they were “just housewives,” reveling in a comic 
world of children’s pranks and eccentric washing machines and 
Parents’ Night at the PTA. “After making the bed of a twelve-year- 
old boy week after week, climbing Mount Everest would seem a 
laughable anticlimax,” writes Shirley Jackson (McCall’s, April, 
1956). When Shirley Jackson, who all her adult life has been an 
extremely capable writer, pursuing a craft far more demanding than 
bedmaking, and Jean Kerr, who is a playwright, and Phyllis 
McGinley, who is a poet, picture themselves as housewives, they 
may or may not overlook the housekeeper or maid who really makes 
the beds. But they implicitly deny the vision, and the satisfying hard 
work involved in their stories, poems, and plays. They deny the lives 
they lead, not as housewives, but as individuals. 

They are good craftsmen, the best of these Housewife Writers. 
And some of their work is funny. The things that happen with 
children, a twelve-year-old boy’s first cigarette, the Little League 
and the kindergarten rhythm band are often funny; they happen in real 
life to women who are writers as well as women who are just 
housewives. But there is something about Housewife Writers that 
isn’t funny—like Uncle Tom, or Amos and Andy. “Laugh,” the 
Housewife Writers tell the real housewife, “if you are feeling 
desperate, empty, bored, trapped in the bedmaking, chauffeuring and 
dishwashing details. Isn’t it funny? We’re all in the same trap.” Do 



real housewives then dissipate in laughter their dreams and their 
sense of desperation? Do they think their frustrated abilities and their 
limited lives are a joke? Shirley Jackson makes the beds, loves and 
laughs at her son—and writes another book. Jean Kerr’s plays are 
produced on Broadway. The joke is not on them. 

Some of the new Housewife Writers live the image; Redbook tells 
us that the author of an article on “Breast-Feeding,” a woman named 
Betty Ann Countrywoman, “had planned to be a doctor. But just 
before her graduation from Radcliffe cum laude, she shrank from the 
thought that such a dedication might shut her off from what she really 
wanted, which was to marry and have a large family. She enrolled in 
the Yale University School of Nursing and then became engaged to a 
young psychiatrist on their first date. Now they have six children, 
ranging in age from 2 to 13, and Mrs. Countrywoman is instructor in 
breast-feeding at the Maternity League of Indianapolis” ( Redbook , 
June, 1960). She says: 

For the mother, breast-feeding becomes a complement to the 
act of creation. It gives her a heightened sense of fulfillment and 
allows her to participate in a relationship as close to perfection 
as any that a woman can hope to achieve.... The simple fact of 
giving birth, however, does not of itself fulfill this need and 
longing.... Motherliness is a way of life. It enables a woman to 
express her total self with the tender feelings, the protective 
attitudes, the encompassing love of the motherly woman. 


When motherhood, a fulfillment held sacred down the ages, is 
defined as a total way of life, must women themselves deny the world 
and the future open to them? Or does the denial of that world force 
them to make motherhood a total way of life? The line between 
mystique and reality dissolves; real women embody the split in the 
image. In the spectacular Christmas 1956 issue of Life, devoted in 
full to the “new” American woman, we see, not as women’s- 
magazine villain, but as documentary fact, the typical “career woman 
—that fatal error that feminism propagated”—seeking “help” from a 
pyschiatrist. She is bright, well-educated, ambitious, attractive; she 
makes about the same money as her husband; but she is pictured here 
as “frustrated,” so “masculinized” by her career that her castrated, 
impotent, passive husband is indifferent to her sexually. He refuses to 



take responsibility and drowns his destroyed masculinity in 
alcoholism. 

Then there is the discontented suburban wife who raises hell at 
the PTA; morbidly depressed, she destroys her children and 
dominates her husband whom she envies for going out into the 
business world. “The wife, having worked before marriage, or at 
least having been educated for some kind of intellectual work, finds 
herself in the lamentable position of being ‘just a housewife.’.. .In her 
disgruntlement she can work as much damage on the lives of her 
husband and children (and her own life) as if she were a career 
woman, and indeed, sometimes more.” 

And finally, in bright and smiling contrast, are the new housewife- 
mothers, who cherish their “differentness,” their “unique femininity,” 
the “receptivity and passivity implicit in their sexual nature.” 
Devoted to their own beauty and their ability to bear and nurture 
children, they are “feminine women, with truly feminine attitudes, 
admired by men for their miraculous, God-given, sensationally 
unique ability to wear skirts, with all the implications of that fact.” 
Rejoicing in “the reappearance of the old-fashioned three-to-five- 
child family in an astonishing quarter, the upper-and upper-middle 
class suburbs,” Life says: 

Here, among women who might be best qualified for 
“careers,” there is an increasing emphasis on the nurturing and 
homemaking values. One might guess...that because these 
women are better informed and more mature than the average, 
they have been the first to comprehend the penalties of 
“feminism” and to react against them.... Styles in ideas as well 
as in dress and decoration tend to seep down from such places 
to the broader population.... This is the countertrend which may 
eventually demolish the dominant and disruptive trend and make 
marriage what it should be: a true partnership in which...men 
are men, women are women, and both are quietly, pleasantly, 
securely confident of which they are—and absolutely delighted 
to find themselves married to someone of the opposite sex. 


Look glowed at about the same time (October 16, 1956): 



The American woman is winning the battle of the sexes. Like 
a teenager, she is growing up and confounding her critics.... No 
longer a psychological immigrant to man’s world, she works, 
rather casually, as a third of the U. S. labor force, less towards a 
“big career” than as a way of filling a hope chest or buying a 
new home freezer. She gracefully concedes the top jobs to men. 
This wondrous creature also marries younger than ever, bears 
more babies and looks and acts far more feminine than the 
“emancipated” girl of the 1920’s or even ’30’s. Steelworker’s 
wife and Junior Leaguer alike do their own housework.... 
Today, if she makes an old-fashioned choice and lovingly tends 
a garden and a bumper crop of children, she rates louder 
hosannas than ever before. 


In the new America, fact is more important than fiction. The 
documentary Life and Look images of real women who devote their 
lives to children and home are played back as the ideal, the way 
women should be: this is powerful stuff, not to be shrugged off like 
the heroines of women’s magazine fiction. When a mystique is strong, 
it makes its own fiction of fact. It feeds on the very facts which might 
contradict it, and seeps into every corner of the culture, bemusing 
even the social critics. 

Adlai Stevenson, in a commencement address at Smith College in 
1955, reprinted in Woman’s Home Companion (September, 1955), 
dismissed the desire of educated women to play their own political 
part in “the crises of the age.” Modern woman’s participation in 
politics is through her role as wife and mother, said the spokesman of 
democratic liberalism: “Women, especially educated women, have a 
unique opportunity to i nfl uence us, man and boy.” The only problem 
is woman’s failure to appreciate that her true part in the political 
crisis is as wife and mother. 

Once immersed in the very pressing and particular problems 
of domesticity, many women feel frustrated and far apart from 
the great issues and stirring debate for which their education has 
given them understanding and relish. Once they wrote poetry. 
Now it’s the laundry list. Once they discussed art and 
philosophy until late in the night. Now they are so tired they fall 
asleep as soon as the dishes are finished. There is, often, a sense 



of contraction, of closing horizons and lost opportunities. They 
had hoped to play their part in the crises of the age. But what 
they do is wash the diapers. 

The point is that whether we talk of Africa, Islam or Asia, 
women “never had it so good” as you. In short, far from the 
vocation of marriage and motherhood leading you away from the 
great issues of our day, it brings you back to their very center 
and places upon you an infinitely deeper and more intimate 
responsibility than that borne by the majority of those who hit 
the headlines and make the news and live in such a turmoil of 
great issues that they end by being totally unable to distinguish 
which issues are really great. 


Woman’s political job is to “inspire in her home a vision of the 
meaning of life and freedom...to help her husband find values that 
will give purpose to his specialized daily chores...to teach her 
children the uniqueness of each individual human being.” 

This assignment for you, as wives and mothers, you can do in 
the living room with a baby in your lap or in the kitchen with a 
can opener in your hand. If you’re clever, maybe you can even 
practice your saving arts on that unsuspecting man while he’s 
watching television. I think there is much you can do about our 
crisis in the humble role of housewife. I could wish you no 
better vocation than that. 


Thus the logic of the feminine mystique redefined the very nature 
of woman’s problem When woman was seen as a human being of 
limitless human potential, equal to man, anything that kept her from 
realizing her full potential was a problem to be solved: barriers to 
higher education and political participation, discrimination or 
prejudice in law or morality. But now that woman is seen only in 
terms of her sexual role, the barriers to the realization of her full 
potential, the prejudices which deny her full participation in the 
world, are no longer problems. The only problems now are those that 
might disturb her adjustment as a housewife. So career is a problem, 
education is a problem, political interest, even the very admission of 
women’s intelligence and individuality is a problem And finally 



there is the problem that has no name, a vague undefined wish for 
“something more” than washing dishes, ironing, punishing and 
praising the children. In the women’s magazines, it is solved either 
by dyeing one’s hair blonde or by having another baby “Remember, 
when we were all children, how we all planned to ‘be something’?” 
says a young housewife in th q Ladies’ Home Journal (February, 
1960). Boasting that she has worn out six copies of Dr. Spock’s 
baby-care book in seven years, she cries, “I’m lucky! Lucky! I’M SO 
GLAD TO BE A WOMAN!” 

In one of these stories (“Holiday,” Mademoiselle , August, 1949) 
a desperate young wife is ordered by her doctor to get out of the 
house one day a week. She goes shopping, tries on dresses, looks in 
the mirror wondering which one her husband, Sam, will like. 

Always Sam, like a Greek chorus in the back of her head. As 
if she herself hadn’t a definiteness of her own, a clarity that was 
indisputably hers.... Suddenly she couldn’t make the difference 
between pleated and gored skirts of sufficient importance to fix 
her decision. She looked at herself in the full-length glass, tall, 
getting thicker around the hips, the lines of her face beginning to 
slip. She was twenty-nine, but she felt middle-aged, as if a great 
many years had passed and there wasn’t very much yet to 
come...which was ridiculous, for Ellen was only three. There 
was her whole future to plan for, and perhaps another child. It 
was not a thing to be put off too long. 


When the young housewife in “The Man Next to Me” (Redbook, 
November, 1948) discovers that her elaborate dinner party didn’t 
help her husband get a raise after all, she is in despair. (“You should 
say I helped. You should say I’m good for something.. .Life was like 
a puzzle with a piece missing, and the piece was me, and I couldn’t 
figure my place in it at all.”) So she dyes her hair blonde, and when 
her husband reacts satisfactorily in bed to the new “blonde me,” she 
“felt a new sense of peace, as if I’d answered the question within 
myself.” 

Over and over again, stories in women’s magazines insist that 
woman can know fulfillment only at the moment of giving birth to a 
child. They deny the years when she can no longer look forward to 
giving birth, even if she repeats that act over and over again. In the 



feminine mystique, there is no other way for a woman to dream of 
creation or of the future. There is no way she can even dream about 
herself, except as her children’s mother, her husband’s wife. And the 
documentary articles play back new young housewives, grown up 
under the mystique, who do not have even that “question within 
myself.” Says one, described in “How America Lives” ( Ladies’ 
Home Journal , June, 1959): “If he doesn’t want me to wear a certain 
color or a certain kind of dress, then I truly don’t want to, either. The 
thing is, whatever he has wanted is what I also want.... I don’t 
believe in fifty-fifty marriages.” Giving up college and job to marry 
at eighteen, with no regrets, she “never tried to enter into the 
discussion when the men were talking. She never disputed her 
husband in anything.... She spent a great deal of time looking out the 
window at the snow, the rain, and the gradual emergence of the first 
crocuses. One great time-passer and consolation was...embroidery: 
tiny stitches in gold-metal or silken thread which require i nfi nite 
concentration.” 

There is no problem, in the logic of the feminine mystique, for 
such a woman who has no wishes of her own, who defines herself 
only as wife and mother. The problem, if there is one, can only be her 
children’s, or her husband’s. It is the husband who complains to the 
marriage counselor ( Redbook , June, 1955): “The way I see it, 
marriage takes two people, each living his own life and then putting 
them together. Mary seems to think we both ought to live one life: 
mine.” Mary insists on going with him to buy shirts and socks, tells 
the clerk his size and color. When he comes home at night, she asks 
with whom he ate lunch, where, what did he talk about? When he 
protests, she says, “But darling, I want to share your life, be part of 
all you do, that’s all....I want us to be one, the way it says in the 
marriage service...” It doesn’t seem reasonable to the husband that 
“two people can ever be one the way Mary means it. It’s just plain 
ridiculous on the face of it. Besides, I wouldn’t like it. I don’t want to 
be so bound to another person that I can’t have a thought or an action 
that’s strictly my own.” 

The answer to “Pete’s problem,” says Dr. Emily Mudd, the 
famous marriage counsellor, is to make Mary feel she is living his 
life: invite her to town to lunch with the people in his office once in a 
while, order his favorite veal dish for her and maybe find her some 
“healthy physical activity,” like swimming, to drain off her excess 
energy. It is not Mary’s problem that she has no life of her own. 



The ultimate, in housewife happiness, is finally achieved by the 
Texas housewife, described in “How America Lives” ( Ladies’ 
Home Journal , October, 1960), who “sits on a pale aqua satin sofa 
gazing out her picture window at the street. Even at this hour of the 
morning (it is barely nine-o’clock), she is wearing rouge, powder 
and lipstick, and her cotton dress is immaculately fresh.” She says 
proudly: “By 8:30 A.M., when my youngest goes to school, my whole 
house is clean and neat and I am dressed for the day. I am free to play 
bridge, attend club meetings, or stay home and read, listen to 
Beethoven, and just plain loaf. 

“Sometimes, she washes and dries her hair before sitting down at 
a bridge table at 1:30. Mornings she is having bridge at her house are 
the busiest, for then she must get out the tables, cards, tallies, prepare 
fresh coffee and organize lunch.... During the winter months, she may 
play as often as four days a week from 9:30 to 3 P.M.... Janice is 
careful to be home, before her sons return from school at 4 P.M.” 

She is not frustrated, this new young housewife. An honor student 
at high school, married at eighteen, remarried and pregnant at twenty, 
she has the house she spent seven years dreaming and planning in 
detail. She is proud of her efficiency as a housewife, getting it all 
done by 8:30. She does the major housecleaning on Saturday, when 
her husband fishes and her sons are busy with Boy Scouts. (“There’s 
nothing else to do. No bridge games. It’s a long day for me.”) 

“’I love my home,’ she says.... The pale gray paint in her L- 
shaped living and dining room is five years old, but still in perfect 
condition.... The pale peach and yellow and aqua damask upholstery 
looks spotless after eight years’ wear. ‘Sometimes, I feel I’m too 
passive, too content,’ remarks Janice, fondly, regarding the wristband 
of large family diamonds she wears even when the watch itself is 
being repaired....Her favorite possession is her four-poster spool 
bed with a pink taffeta canopy. ‘I feel just like Queen Elizabeth 
sleeping in that bed,’ she says happily. (Her husband sleeps in 
another room, since he snores.) 

“‘I’m so grateful for my blessings,’ she says. ‘Wonderful husband, 
handsome sons with dispositions to match, big comfortable house.... 
I’m thankful for my good health and faith in God and such material 
possessions as two cars, two TV’s and two fireplaces.’” 

Staring uneasily at this image, I wonder if a few problems are not 
somehow better than this smiling empty passivity. If they are happy, 



these young women who live the feminine mystique, then is this the 
end of the road? Or are the seeds of something worse than frustration 
inherent in this image? Is there a growing divergence between this 
image of woman and human reality? 

Consider, as a symptom, the increasing emphasis on glamour in 
the women’s magazines: the housewife wearing eye makeup as she 
vacuums the floor—“The Honor of Being a Woman.” Why does 
“Occupation: housewife” require such insistent glamorizing year 
after year? The strained glamour is in itself a question mark: the lady 
doth protest too much. 

The image of woman in another era required increasing 
prudishness to keep denying sex. This new image seems to require 
increasing mindlessness, increasing emphasis on things: two cars, 
two TV’s, two fireplaces. Whole pages of women’s magazines are 
filled with gargantuan vegetables: beets, cucumbers, green peppers, 
potatoes, described like a love affair. The very size of their print is 
raised until it looks like a first-grade primer. The new McCall’s 
frankly assumes women are brainless, fluffy kittens, the Ladies’ 
Home Journal, feverishly competing, procures rock-and-roller Pat 
Boone as a counselor to teenagers; Redbook and the others enlarge 
their own type size. Does the size of the print mean that the new 
young women, whom all the magazines are courting, have only first- 
grade minds? Or does it try to hide the triviality of the content? 
Within the confines of what is now accepted as woman’s world, an 
editor may no longer be able to think of anything big to do except 
blow up a baked potato, or describe a kitchen as if it were the Hall of 
Mirrors; he is, after all, forbidden by the mystique to deal with a big 
idea. But does it not occur to any of the men who run the women’s 
magazines that their troubles may stem from the smallness of the 
image with which they are truncating women’s minds? 

They are all in trouble today, the mass-circulation magazines, 
vying fiercely with each other and television to deliver more and 
more millions of women who will buy the things their advertisers 
sell. Does this frantic race force the men who make the images to see 
women only as thing-buyers? Does it force them to compete finally in 
emptying women’s minds of human thought? The fact is, the troubles 
of the image-makers seem to be increasing in direct proportion to the 
increasing mindlessness of their image. During the years in which that 
image has narrowed woman’s world down to the home, cut her role 
back to housewife, five of the mass-circulation magazines geared to 



women have ceased publication; others are on the brink. 

The growing boredom of women with the empty, narrow image of 
the women’s magazines may be the most hopeful sign of the image’s 
divorce from reality. But there are more violent symptoms on the part 
of women who are committed to that image. In 1960, the editors of a 
magazine specifically geared to the happy young housewife—or 
rather to the new young couples (the wives are not considered 
separate from their husbands and children)—ran an article asking, 
“Why Young Mothers Feel Trapped” ( Redbook , September, 1960). 
As a promotion stunt, they invited young mothers with such a problem 
to write in the details, for $500. The editors were shocked to receive 
24,000 replies. Can an image of woman be cut down to the point 
where it becomes itself a trap? 

At one of the major women’s magazines, a woman editor, sensing 
that American housewives might be desperately in need of something 
to enlarge their world, tried for some months to convince her male 
colleagues to introduce a few ideas outside the home into the 
magazine. “We decided against it,” the man who makes the final 
decisions said. “Women are so completely divorced from the world 
of ideas in their lives now, they couldn’t take it.” Perhaps it is 
irrelevant to ask, who divorced them? Perhaps these Frankensteins no 
longer have the power to stop the feminine monster they have created. 

I helped create this image. I have watched American women for 
fifteen years try to conform to it. But I can no longer deny my own 
knowledge of its terrible implications. It is not a harmless image. 
There may be no psychological terms for the harm it is doing. But 
what happens when women try to live according to an image that 
makes them deny their minds? What happens when women grow up in 
an image that makes them deny the reality of the changing world? 

The material details of life, the daily burden of cooking and 
cleaning, of taking care of the physical needs of husband and children 
—these did indeed define a woman’s world a century ago when 
Americans were pioneers, and the American frontier lay in 
conquering the land. But the women who went west with the wagon 
trains also shared the pioneering purpose. Now the American 
frontiers are of the mind, and of the spirit. Love and children and 
home are good, but they are not the whole world, even if most of the 
words now written for women pretend they are. Why should women 
accept this picture of a half-life, instead of a share in the whole of 
human destiny? Why should women try to make housework 



“something more,” instead of moving on the frontiers of their own 
time, as American women moved beside their husbands on the old 
frontiers? 

A baked potato is not as big as the world, and vacuuming the 
living room floor—with or without makeup—is not work that takes 
enough thought or energy to challenge any woman’s full capacity. 
Women are human beings, not stuffed dolls, not animals. Down 
through the ages man has known that he was set apart from other 
animals by his mind’s power to have an idea, a vision, and shape the 
future to it. He shares a need for food and sex with other animals, but 
when he loves, he loves as a man, and when he discovers and creates 
and shapes a future different from his past, he is a man, a human 
being. 

This is the real mystery: why did so many American women, with 
the ability and education to discover and create, go back home again, 
to look for “something more” in housework and rearing children? 
For, paradoxically, in the same fifteen years in which the spirited 
New Woman was replaced by the Happy Housewife, the boundaries 
of the human world have widened, the pace of world change has 
quickened, and the very nature of human reality has become 
increasingly free from biological and material necessity. Does the 
mystique keep American woman from growing with the world? Does 
it force her to deny reality, as a woman in a mental hospital must 
deny reality to believe she is a queen? Does it doom women to be 
displaced persons, if not virtual schizophrenics, in our complex, 
changing world? 

It is more than a strange paradox that as all professions are finally 
open to women in America, “career woman” has become a dirty 
word; that as higher education becomes available to any woman with 
the capacity for it, education for women has become so suspect that 
more and more drop out of high school and college to marry and have 
babies; that as so many roles in modern society become theirs for the 
taking, women so insistently co nfi ne themselves to one role. Why, 
with the removal of all the legal, political, economic, and educational 
barriers that once kept woman from being man’s equal, a person in 
her own right, an individual free to develop her own potential, should 
she accept this new image which insists she is not a person but a 
“woman,” by definition barred from the freedom of human existence 
and a voice in human destiny? 

The feminine mystique is so powerful that women grow up no 



longer knowing that they have the desires and capacities the mystique 
forbids. But such a mystique does not fasten itself on a whole nation 
in a few short years, reversing the trends of a century, without cause. 
What gives the mystique its power? Why did women go home again? 



The Crisis in Woman’s Identity 


A discovered a strange thing, interviewing women of my own 
generation over the past ten years. When we were growing up, many 
of us could not see ourselves beyond the age of twenty-one. We had 
no image of our own future, of ourselves as women. 

I remember the stillness of a spring afternoon on the Smith campus 
in 1942, when I came to a frightening dead end in my own vision of 
the future. A few days earlier, I had received a notice that I had won 
a graduate fellowship. During the congratulations, underneath my 
excitement, I felt a strange uneasiness; there was a question that I did 
not want to think about. 

“Is this really what I want to be?” The question shut me off, cold 
and alone, from the girls talking and studying on the sunny hillside 
behind the college house. I thought I was going to be a psychologist. 
But if I wasn’t sure, what did I want to be? I felt the future closing in 
—and I could not see myself in it at all. I had no image of myself, 
stretching beyond college. I had come at seventeen from a 
Midwestern town, an unsure girl; the wide horizons of the world and 
the life of the mind had been opened to me. I had begun to know who 
I was and what I wanted to do. I could not go back now. I could not 
go home again, to the life of my mother and the women of our town, 
bound to home, bridge, shopping, children, husband, charity, clothes. 
But now that the time had come to make my own future, to take the 
deciding step, I suddenly did not know what I wanted to be. 

I took the fellowship, but the next spring, under the alien 
California sun of another campus, the question came again, and I 
could not put it out of my mind. I had won another fellowship that 
would have committed me to research for my doctorate, to a career 
as professional psychologist. “Is this really what I want to be?” The 
decision now truly terrified me. I lived in a terror of indecision for 
days, unable to think of anything else. 

The question was not important, I told myself. No question was 
important to me that year but love. We walked in the Berkeley hills 



and a boy said: “Nothing can come of this, between us. I’ll never win 
a fellowship like yours.” Did I think I would be choosing, 
irrevocably, the cold loneliness of that afternoon if I went on? I gave 
up the fellowship, in relief. But for years afterward, I could not read 
a word of the science that once I had thought of as my future life’s 
work; the reminder of its loss was too painful. 

I never could explain, hardly knew myself, why I gave up this 
career. I lived in the present, working on newspapers with no 
particular plan. I married, had children, lived according to the 
feminine mystique as a suburban housewife. But still the question 
haunted me. I could sense no purpose in my life, I could find no 
peace, until I finally faced it and worked out my own answer. 

I discovered, talking to Smith seniors in 1959, that the question is 
no less terrifying to girls today. Only they answer it now in a way that 
my generation found, after half a lifetime, not to be an answer at all. 
These girls, mostly seniors, were sitting in the living room of the 
college house, having coffee. It was not too different from such an 
evening when I was a senior, except that many more of the girls wore 
rings on their left hands. I asked the ones around me what they 
planned to be. The engaged ones spoke of weddings, apartments, 
getting a job as a secretary while husband finished school. The 
others, after a hostile silence, gave vague answers about this job or 
that, graduate study, but no one had any real plans. A blonde with a 
ponytail asked me the next day if I had believed the things they had 
said. “None of it was true,” she told me. “We don’t like to be asked 
what we want to do. None of us know. None of us even like to think 
about it. The ones who are going to be married right away are the 
lucky ones. They don’t have to think about it.” 

But I noticed that night that many of the engaged girls, sitting 
silently around the fire while I asked the others about jobs, had also 
seemed angry about something. “They don’t want to think about not 
going on,” my ponytailed informant said. “They know they’re not 
going to use their education. They’ll be wives and mothers. You can 
say you’re going to keep on reading and be interested in the 
community. But that’s not the same. You won’t really go on. It’s a 
disappointment to know you’re going to stop now, and not go on and 
use it.” 

In counterpoint, I heard the words of a woman, fifteen years after 
she left college, a doctor’s wife, mother of three, who said over 
coffee in her New England kitchen: 



The tragedy was, nobody ever looked us in the eye and said 
you have to decide what you want to do with your life, besides 
being your husband’s wife and children’s mother. I never 
thought it through until I was thirty-six, and my husband was so 
busy with his practice that he couldn’t entertain me every night. 
The three boys were in school all day. I kept on trying to have 
babies despite an Rh discrepancy. After two miscarriages, they 
said I must stop. I thought that my own growth and evolution 
were over. I always knew as a child that I was going to grow up 
and go to college, and then get married, and that’s as far as a girl 
has to think. After that, your husband determines and fills your 
life. It wasn’t until I got so lonely as the doctor’s wife and kept 
screaming at the kids because they didn’t fill my life that I 
realized I had to make my own life. I still had to decide what I 
wanted to be. I hadn’t finished evolving at all. But it took me ten 
years to think it through. 


The feminine mystique permits, even encourages, women to 
ignore the question of their identity. The mystique says they can 
answer the question “Who am I?” by saying “Tom’s wife...Mary’s 
mother.” But I don’t think the mystique would have such power over 
American women if they did not fear to face this terrifying blank 
which makes them unable to see themselves after twenty-one. The 
truth is—and how long it has been true, I’m not sure, but it was true 
in my generation and it is true of girls growing up today—an 
American woman no longer has a private image to tell her who she 
is, or can be, or wants to be. 

The public image, in the magazines and television commercials, is 
designed to sell washing machines, cake mixes, deodorants, 
detergents, rejuvenating face creams, hair tints. But the power of that 
image, on which companies spend millions of dollars for television 
time and ad space, comes from this: American women no longer 
know who they are. They are sorely in need of a new image to help 
them find their identity. As the motivational researchers keep telling 
the advertisers, American women are so unsure of who they should 
be that they look to this glossy public image to decide every detail of 
their lives. They look for the image they will no longer take from 
their mothers. 

In my generation, many of us knew that we did not want to be like 



our mothers, even when we loved them We could not help but see 
their disappointment. Did we understand, or only resent, the sadness, 
the emptiness, that made them hold too fast to us, try to live our lives, 
run our fathers’ lives, spend their days shopping or yearning for 
things that never seemed to satisfy them, no matter how much money 
they cost? Strangely, many mothers who loved their daughters—and 
mine was one—did not want their daughters to grow up like them 
either. They knew we needed something more. 

But even if they urged, insisted, fought to help us educate 
ourselves, even if they talked with yearning of careers that were not 
open to them, they could not give us an image of what we could be. 
They could only tell us that their lives were too empty, tied to home; 
that children, cooking, clothes, bridge, and charities were not enough. 
A mother might tell her daughter, spell it out, “Don’t be just a 
housewife like me.” But that daughter, sensing that her mother was 
too frustrated to savor the love of her husband and children, might 
feel: “I will succeed where my mother failed, I will fulfill myself as 
a woman,” and never read the lesson of her mother’s life. 

Recently, interviewing high-school girls who had started out full 
of promise and talent, but suddenly stopped their education, I began 
to see new dimensions to the problem of feminine conformity. These 
girls, it seemed at first, were merely following the typical curve of 
feminine adjustment. Earlier interested in geology or poetry, they 
now were interested only in being popular; to get boys to like them, 
they had concluded, it was better to be like all the other girls. On 
closer examination, I found that these girls were so terrified of 
becoming like their mothers that they could not see themselves at all. 
They were afraid to grow up. They had to copy in identical detail the 
composite image of the popular girl—denying what was best in 
themselves out of fear of femininity as they saw it in their mothers. 
One of these girls, seventeen years old, told me: 

I want so badly to feel like the other girls. I never get over 
this feeling of being a neophyte, not initiated. When I get up and 
have to cross a room, it’s like I’m a beginner, or have some 
terrible affliction, and I’ll never learn. I go to the local hangout 
after school and sit there for hours talking about clothes and 
hairdos and the twist, and I’m not that interested, so it’s an 
effort. But I found out I could make them like me—just do what 
they do, dress like them, talk like them, not do things that are 



different. I guess I even started to make myself not different 
inside. 

I used to write poetry. The guidance office says I have this 
creative ability and I should be at the top of the class and have a 
great future. But things like that aren’t what you need to be 
popular. The important thing for a girl is to be popular. 

Now I go out with boy after boy, and it’s such an effort 
because I’m not myself with them. It makes you feel even more 
alone. And besides, I’m afraid of where it’s going to lead. Pretty 
soon, all my differences will be smoothed out, and I’ll be the 
kind of girl that could be a housewife. 

I don’t want to think of growing up. If I had children, I’d 
want them to stay the same age. If I had to watch them grow up, 
I’d see myself growing older, and I wouldn’t want to. My 
mother says she can’t sleep at night, she’s sick with worry over 
what I might do. When I was little, she wouldn’t let me cross the 
street alone, long after the other kids did. 

I can’t see myself as being married and having children. It’s 
as if I wouldn’t have any personality myself. My mother’s like a 
rock that’s been smoothed by the waves, like a void. She’s put 
so much into her family that there’s nothing left, and she resents 
us because she doesn’t get enough in return. But sometimes it 
seems like there’s nothing there. My mother doesn’t serve any 
purpose except cleaning the house. She isn’t happy, and she 
doesn’t make my father happy. If she didn’t care about us 
children at all, it would have the same effect as caring too much. 
It makes you want to do the opposite. I don’t think it’s really 
love. When I was little and I ran in all excited to tell her I’d 
learned how to stand on my head, she was never listening. 

Lately, I look into the mirror, and I’m so afraid I’m going to 
look like my mother. It frightens me, to catch myself being like 
her in gestures or speech or anything. I’m not like her in so many 
ways, but if I’m like her in this one way, perhaps I’ll turn out 
like my mother after all. And that terrifies me. 


And so the seventeen-year-old was so afraid of being a woman 
like her mother that she turned her back on all the things in herself 
and all the opportunities that would have made her a different 
woman, to copy from the outside the “popular” girls. And finally, in 



panic at losing herself, she turned her back on her own popularity and 
defied the conventional good behavior that would have won her a 
college scholarship. For lack of an image that would help her grow 
up as a woman true to herself, she retreated into the beatnik vacuum. 

Another girl, a college junior from South Carolina told me: 

I don’t want to be interested in a career I’ll have to give up. 

My mother wanted to be a newspaper reporter from the time 
she was twelve, and I’ve seen her frustration for twenty years. I 
don’t want to be interested in world affairs. I don’t want to be 
interested in anything beside my home and being a wonderful 
wife and mother. Maybe education is a liability. Even the 
brightest boys at home want just a sweet, pretty girl. Only 
sometimes I wonder how it would feel to be able to stretch and 
stretch and stretch, and learn all you want, and not have to hold 
yourselfback. 


Her mother, almost all our mothers, were housewives, though 
many had started or yearned for or regretted giving up careers. 
Whatever they told us, we, having eyes and ears and mind and heart, 
knew that their lives were somehow empty. We did not want to be 
like them, and yet what other model did we have? 

The only other kind of women I knew, growing up, were the old- 
maid high-school teachers; the librarian; the one woman doctor in our 
town, who cut her hair like a man; and a few of my college 
professors. None of these women lived in the warm center of life as I 
had known it at home. Many had not married or had children. I 
dreaded being like them, even the ones who taught me truly to respect 
my own mind and use it, to feel that I had a part in the world. I never 
knew a woman, when I was growing up, who used her mind, played 
her own part in the world, and also loved, and had children. 

I think that this has been the unknown heart of woman’s problem 
in America for a long time, this lack of a private image. Public 
images that defy reason and have very little to do with women 
themselves have had the power to shape too much of their lives. 
These images would not have such power, if women were not 
suffering a crisis of identity. 

The strange, terrifying jumping-off point that American women 
reach—at eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-five, forty-one—has been 



noticed for many years by sociologists, psychologists, analysts, 
educators. But I think it has not been understood for what it is. It has 
been called a “discontinuity” in cultural conditioning; it has been 
called woman’s “role crisis.” It has been blamed on the education 
which made American girls grow up feeling tree and equal to boys— 
playing baseball, riding bicycles, conquering geometry and college 
boards, going away to college, going out in the world to get a job, 
living alone in an apartment in New York or Chicago or San 
Francisco, testing and discovering their own powers in the world. 
All this gave girls the feeling they could be and do whatever they 
wanted to, with the same freedom as boys, the critics said. It did not 
prepare them for their role as women. The crisis comes when they 
are forced to adjust to this role. Today’s high rate of emotional 
distress and breakdown among women in their twenties and thirties is 
usually attributed to this “role crisis.” If girls were educated for their 
role as women, they would not suffer this crisis, the adjusters say. 

But I think they have seen only half the truth. 

What if the terror a girl faces at twenty-one, when she must decide 
who she will be, is simply the terror of growing up—growing up, as 
women were not permitted to grow before? What if the terror a girl 
faces at twenty-one is the terror of freedom to decide her own life, 
with no one to order which path she will take, the freedom and the 
necessity to take paths women before were not able to take? What if 
those who choose the path of “feminine adjustment”—evading this 
terror by marrying at eighteen, losing themselves in having babies 
and the details of housekeeping—are simply refusing to grow up, to 
face the question of their own identity? 

Mine was the first college generation to run head-on into the new 
mystique of feminine fulfillment. Before then, while most women did 
indeed end up as housewives and mothers, the point of education was 
to discover the life of the mind, to pursue truth and to take a place in 
the world. There was a sense, already dulling when I went to college, 
that we would be New Women. Our world would be much larger 
than home. Forty per cent of my college class at Smith had career 
plans. But I remember how, even then, some of the seniors, suffering 
the pangs of that bleak fear of the future, envied the few who escaped 
it by getting married right away. 

The ones we envied then are suffering that terror now at forty. 
“Never have decided what kind of woman I am. Too much personal 
life in college. Wish I’d studied more science, history, government, 



gone deeper into philosophy,” one wrote on an alumnae 
questionnaire, fifteen years later. “Still trying to find the rock to build 
on. Wish I had finished college. I got married instead.” “Wish I’d 
developed a deeper and more creative life of my own and that I 
hadn’t become engaged and married at nineteen. Having expected the 
ideal in marriage, including a hundred-per-cent devoted husband, it 
was a shock to find this isn’t the way it is,” wrote a mother of six. 

Many of the younger generation of wives who marry early have 
never suffered this lonely terror. They thought they did not have to 
choose, to look into the future and plan what they wanted to do with 
their lives. They had only to wait to be chosen, marking time 
passively until the husband, the babies, the new house decided what 
the rest of their lives would be. They slid easily into their sexual role 
as women before they knew who they were themselves. It is these 
women who suffer most the problem that has no name. 

It is my thesis that the core of the problem for women today is not 
sexual but a problem of identity—a stunting or evasion of growth that 
is perpetuated by the feminine mystique. It is my thesis that as the 
Victorian culture did not permit women to accept or gratify their 
basic sexual needs, our culture does not permit women to accept or 
gratify their basic need to grow and fulfill their potentialities as 
human beings, a need which is not solely defined by their sexual role. 

Biologists have recently discovered a “youth serum” which, if fed 
to young caterpillars in the larva state, will keep them from ever 
maturing into moths; they will live out their lives as caterpillars. The 
expectations of feminine fulfillment that are fed to women by 
magazines, television, movies, and books that popularize 
psychological half-truths, and by parents, teachers and counselors 
who accept the feminine mystique, operate as a kind of youth serum, 
keeping most women in the state of sexual larvae, preventing them 
from achieving the maturity of which they are capable. And there is 
increasing evidence that woman’s failure to grow to complete 
identity has hampered rather than enriched her sexual fulfillment, 
virtually doomed her to be castrative to her husband and sons, and 
caused neuroses, or problems as yet unnamed as neuroses, equal to 
those caused by sexual repression. 

There have been identity crises for man at all the crucial turning 
points in human history, though those who lived through them did not 
give them that name. It is only in recent years that the theorists of 
psychology, sociology and theology have isolated this problem, and 



given it a name. But it is considered a man’s problem It is defined, 
for man, as the crisis of growing up, of choosing his identity, “the 
decision as to what one is and is going to be,” in the words of the 
brilliant psychoanalyst Erik H. Erikson: 

I have called the major crisis of adolescence the identity 
crisis; it occurs in that period of the life cycle when each youth 
must forge for himself some central perspective and direction, 
some working unity, out of the effective remnants of his 
childhood and the hopes of his anticipated adulthood; he must 
detect some meaningful resemblance between what he has come 
to see in himself and what his sharpened awareness tells him 
others judge and expect him to be.... In some people, in some 
classes, at some periods in history, the crisis will be minimal; in 
other people, classes and periods, the crisis will be clearly 
marked off as a critical period, a kind of “second birth,” apt to 
be aggravated either by widespread neuroticisms or by 
pervasive ideological unrest.- 


In this sense, the identity crisis of one man’s life may reflect, or 
set off, a rebirth, or new stage, in the growing up of mankind. “In 
some periods of his history, and in some phases of his life cycle, man 
needs a new ideological orientation as surely and sorely as he must 
have air and food,” said Erikson, focusing new light on the crisis of 
the young Martin Luther, who left a Catholic monastery at the end of 
the Middle Ages to forge a new identity for himself and Western man. 

The search for identity is not new, however, in American thought 
—though in every generation, each man who writes about it 
discovers it anew. In America, from the beginning, it has somehow 
been understood that men must thrust into the future; the pace has 
always been too rapid for man’s identity to stand still. In every 
generation, many men have suffered misery, unhappiness, and 
uncertainty because they could not take the image of the man they 
wanted to be from their fathers. The search for identity of the young 
man who can’t go home again has always been a major theme of 
American writers. And it has always been considered right in 
America, good, for men to suffer these agonies of growth, to search 
for and find their own identities. The farm boy went to the city, the 


garment-maker’s son became a doctor, Abraham Lincoln taught 
himself to read—these were more than rags-to-riches stories. They 
were an integral part of the American dream. The problem for many 
was money, race, color, class, which barred them from choice—not 
what they would be if they were free to choose. 

Even today a young man learns soon enough that he must decide 
who he wants to be. If he does not decide in junior high, in high 
school, in college, he must somehow come to terms with it by twenty- 
five or thirty, or he is lost. But this search for identity is seen as a 
greater problem now because more and more boys cannot find 
images in our culture—from their fathers or other men—to help them 
in their search. The old frontiers have been conquered, and the 
boundaries of the new are not so clearly marked. More and more 
young men in America today suffer an identity crisis for want of any 
image of man worth pursuing, for want of a purpose that truly realizes 
their human abilities. 

But why have theorists not recognized this same identity crisis in 
women? In terms of the old conventions and the new feminine 
mystique women are not expected to grow up to find out who they 
are, to choose their human identity. Anatomy is woman’s destiny, say 
the theorists of femininity; the identity of woman is determined by her 
biology. 

But is it? More and more women are asking themselves this 
question. As if they were waking from a coma, they ask, “Where am 
I...what am I doing here?” For the first time in their history, women 
are becoming aware of an identity crisis in their own lives, a crisis 
which began many generations ago, has grown worse with each 
succeeding generation, and will not end until they, or their daughters, 
turn an unknown corner and make of themselves and their lives the 
new image that so many women now so desperately need. 

In a sense that goes beyond any one woman’s life, I think this is 
the crisis of women growing up—a turning point from an immaturity 
that has been called femininity to lull human identity. I think women 
had to suffer this crisis of identity, which began a hundred years ago, 
and have to suffer it still today, simply to become fully human. 



The Passionate Journey 


It was the need for a new identity that started women, a century ago, 
on that passionate journey, that vilified, misinterpreted journey away 
from home. 

It has been popular in recent years to laugh at feminism as one of 
history’s dirty jokes: to pity, sniggering, those old-fashioned 
feminists who fought for women’s rights to higher education, careers, 
the vote. They were neurotic victims of penis envy who wanted to be 
men, it is said now. In battling for women’s freedom to participate in 
the major work and decisions of society as the equals of men, they 
denied their very nature as women, which fulfills itself only through 
sexual passivity, acceptance of male domination, and nurturing 
motherhood. 

But if I am not mistaken, it is this first journey which holds the 
clue to much that has happened to women since. It is one of the 
strange blind spots of contemporary psychology not to recognize the 
reality of the passion that moved these women to leave home in 
search of new identity, or, staying home, to yearn bitterly for 
something more. Theirs was an act of rebellion, a violent denial of 
the identity of women as it was then defined. It was the need for a 
new identity that led those passionate feminists to forge new trails for 
women. Some of those trails were unexpectedly rough, some were 
dead ends, and some may have been false, but the need for women to 
find new trails was real. 

The problem of identity was new for women then, truly new. The 
feminists were pioneering on the front edge of woman’s evolution. 
They had to prove that women were human. They had to shatter, 
violently if necessary, the decorative Dresden figurine that 
represented the ideal woman of the last century. They had to prove 
that woman was not a passive, empty mirror, not a frilly, useless 
decoration, not a mindless animal, not a thing to be disposed of by 
others, incapable of a voice in her own existence, before they could 
even begin to fight for the rights women needed to become the human 



equals of men. 

Changeless woman, childish woman, a woman’s place is in the 
home, they were told. But man was changing; his place was in the 
world and his world was widening. Woman was being left behind. 
Anatomy was her destiny; she might die giving birth to one baby, or 
live to be thirty-five, giving birth to twelve, while man controlled his 
destiny with that part of his anatomy which no other animal had: his 
mind. 

Women also had minds. They also had the human need to grow. 
But the work that fed life and moved it forward was no longer done 
at home, and women were not trained to understand and work in the 
world. Confined to the home, a child among her children, passive, no 
part of her existence under her own control, a woman could only 
exist by pleasing man. She was wholly dependent on his protection in 
a world that she had no share in making: man’s world. She could 
never grow up to ask the simple human question, “Who am I? What 
do I want?” 

Even if man loved her as a child, a doll, a decoration; even if he 
gave her rubies, satin, velvets; even if she was warm in her house, 
safe with her children, would she not yearn for something more? She 
was, at that time, so completely defined as object by man, never 
herself as subject, “I,” that she was not even expected to enjoy or 
participate in the act of sex. “He took his pleasure with her...he had 
his way with her,” as the sayings went. Is it so hard to understand that 
emancipation, the right to full humanity, was important enough to 
generations of women, still alive or only recently dead, that some 
fought with their fists, and went to jail and even died for it? And for 
the right to human growth, some women denied their own sex, the 
desire to love and be loved by a man, and to bear children. 

It is a strangely unquestioned perversion of history that the 
passion and fire of the feminist movement came from man-hating, 
embittered, sex-starved spinsters, from castrating, unsexed non¬ 
women who burned with such envy for the male organ that they 
wanted to take it away from all men, or destroy them, demanding 
rights only because they lacked the power to love as women. Mary 
Wollstonecraft, Angelina Grimke, Ernestine Rose, Margaret Fuller, 
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Julia Ward Howe, Margaret Sanger all 
loved, were loved, and married; many seem to have been as 
passionate in their relations with lover and husband, in an age when 
passion in woman was as forbidden as intelligence, as they were in 



their battle for woman’s chance to grow to full human stature. But if 
they, and those like Susan Anthony, whom fortune or bitter 
experience turned away from marriage, fought for a chance for 
woman to fulfill herself, not in relation to man, but as an individual, it 
was from a need as real and burning as the need for love. (“What 
woman needs,” said Margaret Fuller, “is not as a woman to act or 
rule, but as a nature to grow, as an intellect to discern, as a soul to 
live freely, and unimpeded to unfold such powers as were given 
her.”) 

The feminists had only one model, one image, one vision, of a full 
and free human being: man. For until very recently, only men (though 
not all men) had the freedom and the education necessary to realize 
their full abilities, to pioneer and create and discover, and map new 
trails for future generations. Only men had the vote: the freedom to 
shape the major decisions of society. Only men had the freedom to 
love, and enjoy love, and decide for themselves in the eyes of their 
God the problems of right and wrong. Did women want these 
freedoms because they wanted to be men? Or did they want them 
because they also were human? 

That this is what feminism was all about was seen symbolically 
by Henrik Ibsen. When he said in the play “A Doll’s House,” in 
1879, that a woman was simply a human being, he struck a new note 
in literature. Thousands of women in middle-class Europe and 
America, in that Victorian time, saw themselves in Nora. And in 
1960, almost a century later, millions of American housewives, who 
watched the play on television, also saw themselves as they heard 
Nora say: 

You have always been so kind to me. But our home has been 
nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll wife, just as at 
home I was Papa’s doll child; and here the children have been 
my dolls. I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as 
they thought it fun when I played with them. That is what our 
marriage has been, Torvald... 

How am I fitted to bring up the children?...There is another 
task I must undertake first. I must try and educate myself—you 
are not the man to help me in that. I must do that for myself. And 
that is why I am going to leave you now...I must stand quite 
alone if I am to understand myself and everything about me. It is 
for that reason that I cannot remain with you any longer... 



Her shocked husband reminds Nora that woman’s “most sacred 
duties” are her duties to her husband and children. “Before all else, 
you are a wife and mother,” he says. And Nora answers: 

I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, 
just as you are—or, at all events, that I must try and become one. 
I know quite well, Torvald, that most people would think you 
right, and that views of that kind are to be found in books; but I 
can no longer content myself with what most people say or with 
what is found in books. I must think over things for myself and 
get to understand them... 


It is a cliche of our own time that women spent half a century 
fighting for “rights,” and the next half wondering whether they wanted 
them after all. “Rights” have a dull sound to people who have grown 
up after they have been won. But like Nora, the feminists had to win 
those rights before they could begin to live and love as human beings. 
Not very many women then, or even now, dared to leave the only 
security they knew—dared to turn their backs on their homes and 
husbands to begin Nora’s search. But a great many, then as now, must 
have found their existence as housewives so empty that they could no 
longer savor the love of husband and children. 

Some of them—and even a few men who realized that half the 
human race was denied the right to become fully human—set out to 
change the conditions that held women in bondage. Those conditions 
were summed up by the first Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca 
Falls, New York, in 1848, as woman’s grievances against man: 

He has compelled her to submit to laws in the formation of 
which she has no voice.... He has made her, if married, in the 
eyes of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right to 
property, even to the wages she earns...In the covenant of 
marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her 
husband, he becoming to all intents and purposes her master— 
the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to 
administer chastisement.... He closes against her all the avenues 



of wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to 
himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine or law, she is not 
known. He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough 
education, all colleges being closed against her.... He has 
created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a 
different code of morals for men and women by which moral 
delinquencies which exclude women from society are not only 
tolerated, but deemed of little account to man. He has usurped 
the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to 
assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her 
conscience and to her God. He has endeavored in every way 
that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to 
lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a 
dependent and abject life. 


It was these conditions, which the feminists set out to abolish a 
century ago, that made women what they were—“feminine,” as it was 
then, and is still, defined. 

It is hardly a coincidence that the struggle to free woman began in 
America on the heels of the Revolutionary War, and grew strong with 
the movement to free the slaves.- Thomas Paine, the spokesman for 
the Revolution, was among the first to condemn in 1775 the position 
of women “even in countries where they may be esteemed the most 
happy, constrained in their desires in the disposal of their goods, 
robbed of freedom and will by the laws, the slaves of opinion...” 
During the Revolution, some ten years before Mary Wollstonecraft 
spearheaded the feminist movement in England, an American woman, 
Judith Sargent Murray, said woman needed knowledge to envision 
new goals and grow by reaching for them. In 1837, the year Mount 
Holyoke opened its doors to give women their first chance at 
education equal to man’s, American women were also holding their 
first national anti-slavery convention in New York. The women who 
formally launched the women’s rights movement at Seneca Falls met 
each other when they were refused seats at an anti-slavery convention 
in London. Shut off behind a curtain in the gallery, Elizabeth Stanton, 
on her honeymoon, and Lucretia Mott, demure mother of five, 
decided that it was not only the slaves who needed to be liberated. 


Whenever, wherever in the world there has been an upsurge of 
human freedom, women have won a share of it for themselves. Sex 
did not fight the French Revolution, free the slaves in America, 
overthrow the Russian Czar, drive the British out of India; but when 
the idea of human freedom moves the minds of men, it also moves the 
minds of women. The cadences of the Seneca Falls Declaration came 
straight from the Declaration of Independence: 

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary 
for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people 
of the earth a position different from that they have hitherto 
occupied.... We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men 
and women are created equal. 


Feminism was not a dirty joke. The feminist revolution had to be 
fought because women quite simply were stopped at a stage of 
evolution far short of their human capacity. “The domestic function of 
woman does not exhaust her powers,” the Rev. Theodore Parker 
preached in Boston in 1853. “To make one half the human race 
consume its energies in the functions of housekeeper, wife and mother 
is a monstrous waste of the most precious material God ever made.” 
And running like a bright and sometimes dangerous thread through the 
history of the feminist movement was also the idea that equality for 
woman was necessary to free both man and woman for true sexual 
fulfillment.- For the degradation of woman also degraded marriage, 
love, all relations between man and woman. After the sexual 
revolution, said Robert Dale Owen, “then will the monopoly of sex 
perish with other unjust monopolies; and women will not be 

restricted to one virtue, and one passion, and one occupation.”- 

The women and men who started that revolution anticipated “no 
small amount of misconception, misrepresentation and ridicule.” And 
they got it. The first to speak out in public for women’s rights in 
America—Fanny Wright, daughter of a Scotch nobleman, and 
Ernestine Rose, daughter of a rabbi—were called respectively, “red 
harlot of infidelity” and “woman a thousand times below a 
prostitute.” The declaration at Seneca Falls brought such an outcry of 
“Revolution,” “Insurrection Among Women,” “The Reign of 
Petticoats,” “Blasphemy,” from newspapers and clergymen that the 


faint-hearted withdrew their signatures. Lurid reports of “free love” 
and “legalized adultery” competed with phantasies of court sessions, 
church sermons and surgical operations interrupted while a lady 
lawyer or minister or doctor hastily presented her husband with a 
baby. 

At every step of the way, the feminists had to fight the conception 
that they were violating the God-given nature of woman. Clergymen 
interrupted women’s-rights conventions, waving Bibles and quoting 
from the Scriptures: “Saint Paul said.. .and the head of every woman 
is man”...“Let your women be silent in the churches, for it is not 
permitted unto them to speak”... “And if they will learn anything, let 
them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to speak 
in the church”...“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp 
authority over the man, but to be in silence; for Adam was first 
formed, then Eve”...“Saint Peter said: likewise, ye wives, be in 
subjection to your own husbands”... 

To give women equal rights would destroy that “milder gentler 
nature, which not only makes them shrink from, but disqualifies them 
for the turmoil and battle of public life,” a Senator from New Jersey 
intoned piously in 1866. “They have a higher and a holier mission. It 
is in retiracy to make the character of coming men. Their mission is at 
home, by their blandishments, and their love, to assuage the passions 
of men as they come in from the battle of life, and not themselves by 
joining in the contest to add fuel to the very flames.” 

“They do not appear to be satisfied with having unsexed 
themselves, but they desire to unsex every female in the land,” said a 
New York assemblyman who opposed one of the first petitions for a 
married woman’s right to property and earnings. Since “God created 
man as the representative of the race,” then “took from his side the 
material for woman’s creation” and returned her to his side in 
matrimony as “one flesh, one being,” the assembly smugly denied the 
petition: “A higher power than that from which emanates legislative 
enactments has given forth the mandate that man and woman shall not 
be equal. 

The myth that these women were “unnatural monsters” was based 
on the belief that to destroy the God-given subservience of women 
would destroy the home and make slaves of men. Such myths arise in 
every kind of revolution that advances a new portion of the family of 
man to equality. The image of the feminists as inhuman, fiery man- 
eaters, whether expressed as an offense against God or in the modern 


terms of sexual perversion, is not unlike the stereotype of the Negro 
as a primitive animal or the union member as an anarchist. What the 
sexual terminology hides is the fact that the feminist movement was a 
revolution. There were excesses, of course, as in any revolution, but 
the excesses of the feminists were in themselves a demonstration of 
the revolution’s necessity. They stemmed from, and were a 
passionate repudiation of, the degrading realities of woman’s life, the 
helpless subservience behind the gentle decorum that made women 
objects of such thinly veiled contempt to men that they even felt 
contempt for themselves. Evidently, that contempt and self-contempt 
were harder to get rid of than the conditions which caused them. 

Of course they envied man. Some of the early feminists cut their 
hair short and wore bloomers, and tried to be like men. From the 
lives they saw their mothers lead, from their own experience, those 
passionate women had good reason to reject the conventional image 
of woman. Some even rejected marriage and motherhood for 
themselves. But in turning their backs on the old feminine image, in 
fighting to free themselves and all women, some of them became a 
different kind of woman. They became complete human beings. 

The name of Lucy Stone today brings to mind a man-eating fury, 
wearing pants, brandishing an umbrella. It took a long time for the 
man who loved her to persuade her to marry him, and though she 
loved him and kept his love throughout her long life, she never took 
his name. When she was born, her gentle mother cried: “Oh, dear! I 
am sorry it is a girl. A woman’s life is so hard.” A few hours before 
the baby came, this mother, on a farm in western Massachusetts in 
1818, milked eight cows because a sudden thunderstorm had called 
all hands into the field: it was more important to save the hay crop 
than to safeguard a mother on the verge of childbirth. Though this 
gentle, tired mother carried the endless work of farmhouse and bore 
nine children, Lucy Stone grew up with the knowledge that “There 
was only one will in our house, and that was my father’s.” 

She rebelled at being born a girl if that meant being as lowly as 
the Bible said, as her mother said. She rebelled when she raised her 
hand at church meetings and, time and again, it was not counted. At a 
church sewing circle, where she was making a shirt to help a young 
man through theological seminary, she heard Mary Lyon talk of 
education for women. She left the shirt unfinished, and at sixteen 
started teaching school for $1 a week, saving her earnings for nine 



years, until she had enough to go to college herself. She wanted to 
train herself “to plead not only for the slave, but for suffering 
humanity everywhere. Especially do I mean to labor for the elevation 
of my own sex.” But at Oberlin, where she was one of the first 
women to graduate from the “regular course,” she had to practice 
public speaking secretly in the woods. Even at Oberlin, the girls 
were forbidden to speak in public. 

Washing the men’s clothes, caring for their rooms, serving 
them at table, listening to their orations, but themselves 
remaining respectfully silent in public assemblages, the Oberlin 
“coeds” were being prepared for intelligent motherhood and a 
properly subservient wifehood.- 


In appearance, Lucy Stone was a little woman, with a gentle, 
silvery voice which could quiet a violent mob. She lectured on 
abolition Saturdays and Sundays, as an agent for the Anti-Slavery 
Society, and for women’s rights the rest of the week on her own— 
facing down and winning over men who threatened her with clubs, 
threw prayer books and eggs at her head, and once in mid-winter 
shoved a hose through a window and turned icy water on her. 

In one town, the usual report was circulated that a big, masculine 
woman, wearing boots, smoking a cigar, swearing like a trooper, had 
arrived to lecture. The ladies who came to hear this freak expressed 
their amazement to find Lucy Stone, small and dainty, dressed in a 
black satin gown with a white lace frill at the neck, “a prototype of 
womanly grace.. .fresh and fair as the morning. 

Her voice so rankled pro-slavery forces that the Boston Post 
published a rude poem promising “fame’s loud trumpet shall be 
blown” for the man who “with a wedding kiss shuts up the mouth of 
Lucy Stone.” Lucy Stone felt that “marriage is to a woman a state of 
slavery.” Even after Henry Blackwell had pursued her from 
Cincinnati to Massachusetts (“She was born locomotive,” he 
complained), and vowed to “repudiate the supremacy of either 
woman or man in marriage,” and wrote her: “I met you at Niagara 
and sat at your feet by the whirlpool looking down into the dark 
waters with a passionate and unshared and unsatisfied yearning in my 
heart that you will never know, nor understand,” and made a public 


speech in favor of women’s rights; even after she admitted that she 
loved him, and wrote “You can scarcely tell me anything I do not 
know about the emptiness of a single life,” she suffered blinding 
migraine headaches over the decision to marry him. 

At their wedding, the minister Thomas Higginson reported that 
“the heroic Lucy cried like any village bride.” The minister also 
said: “I never perform the marriage ceremony without a renewed 
sense of the iniquity of a system by which man and wife are one, and 
that one is the husband.” And he sent to the newspapers, for other 
couples to copy, the pact which Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell 
joined hands to make, before their wedding vows: 

While we acknowledge our mutual affection by publicly 
assuming the relationship of husband and wife...we deem it a 
duty to declare that this act on our part implies no sanction of, 
nor promise of voluntary obedience to such of the present laws 
of marriage as refuse to recognize the wife as an independent, 
rational being, while they confer upon the husband an injurious 
and unnatural superiority. - 


Lucy Stone, her friend, the pretty Reverend Antoinette Brown 
(who later married Henry’s brother), Margaret Fuller, Angelina 
Grimke, Abby Kelley Foster—all resisted early marriage, and did 
not, in fact, marry until in their battle against slavery and for 
women’s rights they had begun to find an identity as women unknown 
to their mothers. Some, like Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Blackwell, 
never married; Lucy Stone kept her own name in more than symbolic 
fear that to become a wife was to die as a person. The concept known 
as “femme couverte” (covered woman), written into the law, 
suspended the “very being or legal existence of a woman” upon 
marriage. “To a married woman, her new self is her superior, her 
companion, her master.” 

If it is true that the feminists were “disappointed women,” as their 
enemies said even then, it was because almost all women living 
under such conditions had reason to be disappointed. In one of the 
most moving speeches of her life, Lucy Stone said in 1855: 


From the first years to which my memory stretches, I have 


been a disappointed woman. When, with my brothers, I reached 
forth after sources of knowledge, I was reproved with “It isn’t 
fit for you; it doesn’t belong to women”...In education, in 
marriage, in religion, in everything, disappointment is the lot of 
woman. It shall be the business of my life to deepen this 
disappointment in every woman’s heart until she bows down to 
it no longer.- 


In her own lifetime, Lucy Stone saw the laws of almost every 
state radically changed in regard to women, high schools opened to 
them and two-thirds of the colleges in the United States. Her husband 
and her daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell, devoted their lives, after 
her death in 1893, to the unfinished battle for woman’s vote. By the 
end of her passionate journey, she could say she was glad to have 
been born a woman. She wrote her daughter the day before her 
seventieth birthday: 

I trust my Mother sees and knows how glad I am to have been 
born, and at a time when there was so much that needed help at 
which I could lend a hand. Dear Old Mother! She had a hard 
life, and was sorry she had another girl to share and bear the 
hard life of a woman.... But I am wholly glad that I came.- 


In certain men, at certain times in history, the passion for freedom 
has been as strong or stronger than the familiar passions of sexual 
love. That this was so, for many of those women who fought to free 
women, seems to be a fact, no matter how the strength of that other 
passion is explained. Despite the frowns and jeers of most of their 
husbands and fathers, despite the hostility if not outright abuse they 
got for their “unwomanly” behavior, the feminists continued their 
crusade. They themselves were tortured by soul-searching doubts 
every step of the way. It was unladylike, friends wrote Mary Lyon, to 
travel all over New England with a green velvet bag, collecting 
money to start her college for women. “What do I do that is wrong?” 
she asked. “I ride in the stage-coach or cars without an escort.... My 
heart is sick, my soul is pained with this empty gentility, this genteel 
nothingness. I am doing a great work, I cannot come down.” 


The lovely Angelina Grimke felt as if she would faint, when she 
accepted what was meant as a joke and appeared to speak before the 
Massachusetts legislature on the anti-slavery petitions, the first 
woman ever to appear before a legislative body A pastoral letter 
denounced her unwomanly behavior: 

We invite your attention to the dangers which at present seem 
to threaten the female character with widespread and permanent 
injury.... The power of woman is her dependence, flowing from 
the consciousness of that weakness which God has given her for 
her protection.... But when she assumes the place and tone of 
man as a public re former... her character becomes unnatural. If 
the vine, whose strength and beauty is to lean on the trellis-work 
and half conceal its cluster, thinks to assume the independence 
and overshadowing nature of the elm, it will not only cease to 
bear fruit, but fall in shame and dishonor in the dust.— 


More than restlessness and frustration made her refuse to be 
“shamed into silence,” and made New England housewives walk 
two, four, six, and eight miles on winter evenings to hear her. 

The emotional identification of American women with the battle 
to free the slaves may or may not testify to the unconscious foment of 
their own rebellion. But it is an undeniable fact that, in organizing, 
petitioning, and speaking out to free the slaves, American women 
learned how to free themselves. In the South, where slavery kept 
women at home, and where they did not get a taste of education or 
pioneering work or the schooling battles of society, the old image of 
femininity reigned intact, and there were few feminists. In the North, 
women who took part in the Underground Railroad, or otherwise 
worked to free the slaves, never were the same again. Feminism also 
went west with the wagon trains, where the frontier made women 
almost equal from the beginning. (Wyoming was the first state to give 
women the vote.) Individually, the feminists seem to have had no 
more nor less reason than all women of their time to envy or hate 
man. But what they did have was self-respect, courage, strength. 
Whether they loved or hated man, escaped or suffered humiliation 
from men in their own lives, they identified with women. Women 
who accepted the conditions which degraded them felt contempt for 


themselves and all women. The feminists who fought those conditions 
treed themselves of that contempt and had less reason to envy man. 

The call to that first Woman’s Rights Convention came about 
because an educated woman, who had already participated in shaping 
society as an abolitionist, came face to face with the realities of a 
housewife’s drudgery and isolation in a small town. Like the college 
graduate with six children in the suburb of today, Elizabeth Cady 
Stanton, moved by her husband to the small town of Seneca Falls, 
was restless in a life of baking, cooking, sewing, washing and caring 
for each baby. Her husband, an abolitionist leader, was often away 
on business. She wrote: 

I now understood the practical difficulties most women had 
to contend with in the isolated household and the impossibility 
of woman’s best development if in contact the chief part of her 
life with servants and children.... The general discontent I felt 
with woman’s portion...and the wearied, anxious look of the 
majority of women, impressed me with the strong feeling that 
some active measures should be taken.... I could not see what to 
do or where to begin—my only thought was a public meeting for 
protest and discussion.— 


She put only one notice in the newspapers, and housewives and 
daughters who had never known any other kind of life came in 
wagons from a radius of fifty miles to hear her speak. 

However dissimilar their social or psychological roots, all who 
led the battle for women’s rights, early and late, also shared more 
than common intelligence, fed by more than common education for 
their time. Otherwise, whatever their emotions, they would not have 
been able to see through the prejudices which had justified woman’s 
degradation, and to put their dissenting voice into words. Mary 
Wollstonecraft educated herself and was then educated by that 
company of English philosophers then preaching the rights of man. 
Margaret Fuller was taught by her father to read the classics of six 
languages, and was caught up in the transcendentalist group around 
Emerson. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s father, a judge, got his daughter 
the best education then available, and supplemented it by letting her 
listen to his law cases. Ernestine Rose, the rabbi’s daughter who 


rebelled against her religion’s doctrine that decreed woman’s 
inferiority to man, got her education in “tree thinking” from the great 
utopian philosopher Robert Owen. She also defied orthodox 
religious custom to marry a man she loved. She always insisted, in 
the bitterest days of the fight for women’s rights, that woman’s enemy 
was not man. “We do not fight with man himself, but only with bad 
principles.” 

These women were not man-eaters. Julia Ward Howe, brilliant 
and beautiful daughter of the New York “400” who studied 
intensively every field that interested her, wrote the “Battle Hymn of 
the Republic” anonymously, because her husband believed her life 
should be devoted to him and their six children. She took no part in 
the suffrage movement until 1868, when she met Lucy Stone, who 
“had long been the object of one of my imaginary dislikes. As I 
looked into her sweet, womanly face and heard her earnest voice, I 
felt that the object of my distaste had been a mere phantom, conjured 
up by silly and senseless misrepresentations... .1 could only say, ‘I am 
with you.’”— 

The irony of that man-eating myth is that the so-called excesses of 
the feminists arose from their helplessness. When women are 
considered to have no rights nor to deserve any, what can they do for 
themselves? At first, it seemed there was nothing they could do but 
talk. They held women’s rights conventions every year after 1848, in 
small towns and large, national and state conventions, over and over 
again—in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Massachusetts. They could 
talk till doomsday about the rights they did not have. But how do 
women get legislators to let them keep their own earnings, or their 
own children after divorce, when they do not even have a vote? How 
can they finance or organize a campaign to get the vote when they 
have no money of their own, nor even the right to own property? 

The very sensitivity to opinion which such complete dependence 
breeds in women made every step out of their genteel prison a painful 
one. Even when they tried to change conditions that were within their 
power to change, they met ridicule. The fantastically uncomfortable 
dress “ladies” wore then was a symbol of their bondage: stays so 
tightly laced they could hardly breathe, half a dozen skirts and 
petticoats, weighing ten to twelve pounds, so long they swept up 
refuse from the street. The specter of the feminists taking the pants off 
men came partly from the “Bloomer” dress—a tunic, knee-length 
skirt, ankle length pantaloons. Elizabeth Stanton wore it, eagerly at 


first, to do her housework in comfort, as a young woman today might 
wear shorts or slacks. But when the feminists wore the Bloomer 
dress in public, as a symbol of their emancipation, the rude jokes, 
from newspaper editors, street corner loafers, and small boys, were 
unbearable to their feminine sensitivities. “We put the dress on for 
greater freedom, but what is physical freedom compared to mental 
bondage,” said Elizabeth Stanton and discarded her “Bloomer” 
dress. Most, like Lucy Stone, stopped wearing it for a feminine 
reason: it was not very becoming, except to the extremely tiny, pretty 
Mrs. Bloomer herself. 

Still, that helpless gentility had to be overcome, in the minds of 
men, in the minds of other women, in their own minds. When they 
decided to petition for married women’s rights to own property, half 
the time even the women slammed doors in their faces with the smug 
remark that they had husbands, they needed no laws to protect them. 
When Susan Anthony and her women captains collected 6,000 
signatures in ten weeks, the New York State Assembly received them 
with roars of laughter. In mockery, the Assembly recommended that 
since ladies always get the “choicest tidbits” at the table, the best 
seat in the carriage, and their choice of which side of the bed to lie 
on, “if there is any inequity or oppression the gentlemen are the 
sufferers.” However, they would waive “redress” except where both 
husband and wife had signed the petition. “In such case, they would 
recommend the parties to apply for a law authorizing them to change 
dresses, that the husband may wear the petticoats and the wife the 
breeches.” 

The wonder is that the feminists were able to win anything at all 
—that they were not embittered shrews but increasingly zestful 
women who knew they were making history. There is more spirit than 
bitterness in Elizabeth Stanton, having babies into her forties, writing 
Susan Anthony that this one truly will be her last, and the fun is just 
beginning—“Courage, Susan, we will not reach our prime until 
we’re fifty.” Painfully insecure and self-conscious about her looks— 
not because of treatment by men (she had suitors) but because of a 
beautiful older sister and mother who treated a crossed eye as a 
tragedy—Susan Anthony, of all the nineteenth-century feminist 
leaders, was the only one resembling the myth. She felt betrayed 
when the others started to marry and have babies. But despite the 
chip on her shoulder, she was no bitter spinster with a cat. Traveling 
alone from town to town, hammering up her meeting notices, using 



her abilities to the fullest as organizer and lobbyist and lecturer, she 
made her own way in a larger and larger world. 

In their own lifetime, such women changed the feminine image 
that had justified woman’s degradation. At a meeting while men 
jeered at trusting the vote to women so helpless that they had to be 
lifted over mud puddles and handed into carriages, a proud feminist 
named Sojourner Truth raised her black arm: 

Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted and gathered 
into barns.. .and ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat 
as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as 
well.. .1 have borne thirteen children and seen most of ’em sold 
into slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none 
but Jesus helped me—and ain’t I a woman? 


That image of empty gentility was also undermined by the 
growing thousands of women who worked in the red brick factories: 
the Lowell mill girls who fought the terrible working conditions 
which, partly as a result of women’s supposed inferiority, were even 
worse for them than for men. But those women, who after a twelve-or 
thirteen-hour day in the factory still had household duties, could not 
take the lead in the passionate journey. Most of the leading feminists 
were women of the middle class, driven by a complex of motives to 
educate themselves and smash that empty image. 

What drove them on? “Must let out my pent-up energy in some 
new way,” wrote Louisa May Alcott in her journal when she decided 
to volunteer as a nurse in the Civil War. “A most interesting journey, 
into a new world, full of stirring sights and sounds, new adventures, 
and an ever-growing sense of the great task I had undertaken. I said 
my prayers as I went rushing through the country, white with tents, all 
alive with patriotism, and already red with blood. A solemn time, but 
I’m glad to live in it.” 

What drove them on? Lonely and racked with self-doubt, 
Elizabeth Blackwell, in that unheard-of, monstrous determination to 
be a woman doctor, ignored sniggers—and tentative passes—to do 
her anatomical dissections. She battled for the right to witness the 
dissection of the reproductive organs, but decided against walking in 
the commencement procession because it would be unladylike. 
Shunned even by her fellow physicians, she wrote: 



I am woman as well as physician...I understand now why 
this life has never been lived before. It is hard, with no support 
but a high purpose, to live against every species of social 
opposition...I should like a little fun now and then. Life is 
altogether too sober.— 


In the course of a century of struggle, reality gave the lie to the 
myth that woman would use her rights for vengeful domination of 
man. As they won the right to equal education, the right to speak out 
in public and own property, and the right to work at a job or 
profession and control their own earnings, the feminists felt less 
reason to be bitter against man. But there was one more battle to be 
fought. As M. Carey Thomas, the brilliant first president of Bryn 
Mawr, said in 1908: 

Women are one-half the world, but until a century ago... 
women lived a twilight life, a half life apart, and looked out and 
saw men as shadows walking. It was a man’s world. The laws 
were men’s laws, the government a man’s government, the 
country a man’s country. Now women have won the right to 
higher education and economic independence. The right to 
become citizens of the state is the next and inevitable 
consequence of education and work outside the home. We have 
gone so far; we must go farther. We cannot go back.— 


The trouble was, the women’s rights movement had become 
almost too respectable; yet without the right to vote, women could not 
get any political party to take them seriously. When Elizabeth 
Stanton’s daughter, Harriet Blatch, came home in 1907, the widow of 
an Englishman, she found the movement in which her mother had 
raised her in a sterile rut of tea and cookies. She had seen the tactics 
women used in England to dramatize the issue in a similar stalemate: 
heckling speakers at public meetings, deliberate provocation of the 
police, hunger strikes in jail—the kind of dramatic non-violent 
resistance Gandhi used in India, or that the Freedom Riders now use 
in the United States when legal tactics leave segregation intact. The 
American feminists never had to resort to the extremes of their 


longer-sinned-against English counterparts. But they did dramatize 
the vote issue until they aroused an opposition far more powerful than 
the sexual one. 

As the battle to free women was fired by the battle to free the 
slaves in the nineteenth century, it was fired in the twentieth by the 
battles of social reform, of Jane Addams and Hull House, the use of 
the union movement, and the great strikes against intolerable working 
conditions in the factories. For the Triangle Shirtwaist girls, working 
for as little as $6 a week, as late as 10 o’clock at night, fined for 
talking, laughing, or singing, equality was a question of more than 
education or the vote. They held out on picket lines through bitter 
cold and hungry months; dozens were clubbed by police and dragged 
off in Black Marias. The new feminists raised money for the strikers’ 
bail and food, as their mothers had helped the Underground Railroad. 

Behind the cries of “save femininity,” “save the home,” could 
now be glimpsed the influence of political machines, quailing at the 
very thought of what those reforming women would do if they got the 
vote. Women, after all, were trying to shut down the saloons. 
Brewers as well as other business interests, especially those that 
depended on underpaid labor of children and women, openly lobbied 
against the woman’s suffrage amendment in Washington. “Machine 
men were plainly uncertain of their ability to control an addition to 
the electorate which seemed to them relatively unsusceptible to 
bribery, more militant and bent on disturbing reforms ranging from 
sewage control to the abolition of child labor and worst of all, 
‘cleaning up’ politics.”— And Southern congressmen pointed out that 
suffrage for women also meant Negro women. 

The final battle for the vote was fought in the twentieth century by 
the growing numbers of college-trained women, led by Carrie 
Chapman Catt, daughter of the Iowa prairie, educated at Iowa State, a 
teacher and a newspaperwoman, whose husband, a successful 
engineer, firmly supported her battles. One group that later called 
itself the Woman’s Party made continual headlines with picket lines 
around the White House. After the outbreak of World War I, there 
was much hysteria about women who chained themselves to the 
White House fence. Maltreated by police and courts, they went on 
hunger strikes in jail and were finally martyred by forced feeding. 
Many of these women were Quakers and pacifists; but the majority of 
the feminists supported the war even as they continued their campaign 
for women’s rights. They are hardly accountable for the myth of the 


man-eating feminist which is prevalent today, a myth that has cropped 
up continuously from the days of Lucy Stone to the present, whenever 
anyone has reason to oppose women’s move out of the home. 

In this final battle, American women over a period of fifty years 
conducted 56 campaigns of referenda to male voters; 480 campaigns 
to get legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 277 
campaigns to get state party conventions to include woman’s suffrage 
planks; 30 campaigns to get presidential party conventions to adopt 
woman’s suffrage planks, and 19 campaigns with 19 successive 
Congresses.— Someone had to organize all those parades, speeches, 
petitions, meetings, lobbying of legislators and congressmen. The 
new feminists were no longer a handful of devoted women; 
thousands, millions of American women with husbands, children, and 
homes gave as much time as they could spare to the cause. The 
unpleasant image of the feminists today resembles less the feminists 
themselves than the image fostered by the interests who so bitterly 
opposed the vote for women in state after state, lobbying, threatening 
legislators with business or political ruin, buying votes, even stealing 
them, until, and even after, 36 states had ratified the amendment. 

The ones who fought that battle won more than empty paper rights. 
They cast off the shadow of contempt and self-contempt that had 
degraded women for centuries. The joy, the sense of excitement and 
the personal rewards of that battle are described beautifully by Ida 
Alexa Ross Wylie, an English feminist: 

To my astonishment, I found that women, in spite of knock- 
knees and the fact that for centuries a respectable woman’s leg 
had not even been mentionable, could at a pinch outrun the 
average London bobby. Their aim with a little practice became 
good enough to land ripe vegetables in ministerial eyes, their 
wits sharp enough to keep Scotland Yard running around in 
circles and looking very silly. Their capacity for impromptu 
organization, for secrecy and loyalty, their iconoclastic 
disregard for class and established order were a revelation to 
all concerned, but especially themselves.... 

The day that, with a straight left to the jaw, I sent a fair-sized 
CID officer into the orchestra pit of the theatre where we were 
holding one of our belligerent meetings, was the day of my own 
coming of age.... Since I was no genius, the episode could not 


make me one, but it set me tree to be whatever I was to the top 
of my bent.... 

For two years of wild and sometimes dangerous adventure, I 
worked and fought alongside vigorous, happy, well-adjusted 
women who laughed instead of tittering, who walked freely 
instead of teetering, who could outfast Gandhi and come out 
with a grin and a jest. I slept on hard floors between elderly 
duchesses, stout cooks, and young shop-girls. We were often 
tired, hurt and frightened. But we were content as we had never 
been. We shared a joy of life that we had never known. Most of 
my fellow-fighters were wives and mothers. And strange things 
happened to their domestic life. Husbands came home at night 
with a new eagerness.... As for children, their attitude changed 
rapidly from one of affectionate toleration for poor, darling 
mother to one of wide-eyed wonder. Released from the smother 
of mother love, for she was too busy to be more than casually 
concerned with them, they discovered that they liked her. She 
was a great sport. She had guts.... Those women who stood 
outside the fight—I regret to say the vast majority—and who 
were being more than usually Little Women, hated the fighters 
with the venomous rage of envy.. .— 


Did women really go home again as a reaction to feminism? The 
fact is that to women born after 1920, feminism was dead history. It 
ended as a vital movement in America with the winning of that final 
right: the vote. In the 1930’s and 40’s, the sort of woman who fought 
for woman’s rights was still concerned with human rights and 
freedom—for Negroes, for oppressed workers, for victims of 
Franco’s Spain and Hitler’s Germany. But no one was much 
concerned with rights for women: they had all been won. And yet the 
man-eating myth prevailed. Women who displayed any independence 
or initiative were called “Lucy Stoners.” “Feminist,” like “career 
woman,” became a dirty word. The feminists had destroyed the old 
image of woman, but they could not erase the hostility, the prejudice, 
the discrimination that still remained. Nor could they paint the new 
image of what women might become when they grew up under 
conditions that no longer made them inferior to men, dependent, 
passive, incapable of thought or decision. 

Most of the girls who grew up during the years when the feminists 


were eliminating the causes of that denigrating “genteel nothingness” 
got their image of woman from mothers still trapped in it. These 
mothers were probably the real model for the man-eating myth. The 
shadow of the contempt and self-contempt which could turn a gentle 
housewife into a domineering shrew also turned some of their 
daughters into angry copies of man. The first women in business and 
the professions were thought to be freaks. Insecure in their new 
freedom, some perhaps feared to be soft or gentle, love, have 
children, lest they lose their prized independence, lest they be 
trapped again as their mothers were. They reinforced the myth. 

But the daughters who grew up with the rights the feminists had 
won could not go back to that old image of genteel nothingness, nor 
did they have their aunts’ or mothers’ reasons to be angry copies of 
man, or fear to love them. They had come unknowing to the turning- 
point in woman’s identity. They had truly outgrown the old image; 
they were finally free to be what they chose to be. But what choice 
were they offered? In that corner, the fiery, man-eating feminist, the 
career woman—loveless, alone. In this corner, the gentle wife and 
mother—loved and protected by her husband, surrounded by her 
adoring children. Though many daughters continued on the passionate 
journey their grandmothers had begun, thousands of others fell out— 
victims of a mistaken choice. 

The reasons for their choice were, of course, more complex than 
the feminist myth. How did Chinese women, after having their feet 
bound for many generations, finally discover they could run? The first 
women whose feet were unbound must have felt such pain that some 
were afraid to stand, let alone to walk or run. The more they walked, 
the less their feet hurt. But what would have happened if, before a 
single generation of Chinese girls had grown up with unbound feet, 
doctors, hoping to save them pain and distress, told them to bind their 
feet again? And teachers told them that walking with bound feet was 
feminine, the only way a woman could walk if she wanted a man to 
love her? And scholars told them that they would be better mothers if 
they could not walk too far away from their children? And peddlers, 
discovering that women who could not walk bought more trinkets, 
spread fables of the dangers of running and the bliss of being bound? 
Would many little Chinese girls, then, grow up wanting to have their 
feet securely bound, never tempted to walk or run? 

The real joke that history played on American women is not the 
one that makes people snigger, with cheap Freudian sophistication, at 



the dead feminists. It is the joke that Freudian thought played on 
living women, twisting the memory of the feminists into the man- 
eating phantom of the feminine mystique, shriveling the very wish to 
be more than just a wife and mother. Encouraged by the mystique to 
evade their identity crisis, permitted to escape identity altogether in 
the name of sexual fulfillment, women once again are living with 
their feet bound in the old image of glorified femininity. And it is the 
same old image, despite its shiny new clothes, that trapped women 
for centuries and made the feminists rebel. 



The Sexual Solipsism of Sigmund Freud 


It would be half-wrong to say it started with Sigmund Freud. It did 
not really start, in America, until the 1940’s. And then again, it was 
less a start than the prevention of an end. The old prejudices— 
women are animals, less than human, unable to think like men, born 
merely to breed and serve men—were not so easily dispelled by the 
crusading feminists, by science and education, and by the democratic 
spirit after all. They merely reappeared in the forties, in Freudian 
disguise. The feminine mystique derived its power from Freudian 
thought; for it was an idea born of Freud, which led women, and 
those who studied them, to misinterpret their mothers’ frustrations, 
and their fathers’ and brothers’ and husbands’ resentments and 
inadequacies, and their own emotions and possible choices in life. It 
is a Freudian idea, hardened into apparent fact, that has trapped so 
many American women today. 

The new mystique is much more difficult for the modern woman 
to question than the old prejudices, partly because the mystique is 
broadcast by the very agents of education and social science that are 
supposed to be the chief enemies of prejudice, partly because the 
very nature of Freudian thought makes it virtually invulnerable to 
question. How can an educated American woman, who is not herself 
an analyst, presume to question a Freudian truth? She knows that 
Freud’s discovery of the unconscious workings of the mind was one 
of the great breakthroughs in man’s pursuit of knowledge. She knows 
that the science built on that discovery has helped many suffering men 
and women. She has been taught that only after years of analytic 
training is one capable of understanding the meaning of Freudian 
truth. She may even know how the human mind unconsciously resists 
that truth. How can she presume to tread the sacred ground where 
only analysts are allowed? 

No one can question the basic genius of Freud’s discoveries, nor 
the contribution he has made to our culture. Nor do I question the 
effectiveness of psychoanalysis as it is practiced today by Freudian 



or anti-Freudian. But I do question, from my own experience as a 
woman, and my reporter’s knowledge of other women, the 
application of the Freudian theory of femininity to women today I 
question its use, not in therapy, but as it has filtered into the lives of 
American women through the popular magazines and the opinions and 
interpretations of so-called experts. I think much of the Freudian 
theory about women is obsolescent, an obstacle to truth for women in 
America today, and a major cause of the pervasive problem that has 
no name. 

There are many paradoxes here. Freud’s concept of the superego 
helped to free man of the tyranny of the “shoulds,” the tyranny of the 
past, which prevents the child from becoming an adult. Yet Freudian 
thought helped create a new superego that paralyzes educated modern 
American women—a new tyranny of the “shoulds,” which chains 
women to an old image, prohibits choice and growth, and denies 
them individual identity. 

Freudian psychology, with its emphasis on freedom from a 
repressive morality to achieve sexual fulfillment, was part of the 
ideology of women’s emancipation. The lasting American image of 
the “emancipated woman” is the flapper of the twenties: burdensome 
hair shingled off, knees bared, flaunting her new freedom to live in a 
studio in Greenwich Village or Chicago’s near North Side, and drive 
a car, and drink, and smoke and enjoy sexual adventures—or talk 
about them. And yet today, for reasons far removed from the life of 
Freud himself, Freudian thought has become the ideological bulwark 
of the sexual counter-revolution in America. Without Freud’s 
definition of the sexual nature of woman to give the conventional 
image of femininity new authority, I do not think several generations 
of educated, spirited American women would have been so easily 
diverted from the dawning realization of who they were and what 
they could be. 

The concept “penis envy,” which Freud coined to describe a 
phenomenon he observed in women—that is, in the middle-class 
women who were his patients in Vienna in the Victorian era—was 
seized in this country in the 1940’s as the literal explanation of all 
that was wrong with American women. Many who preached the 
doctrine of endangered femininity, reversing the movement of 
American women toward independence and identity, never knew its 
Freudian origin. Many who seized on it—not the few psychoanalysts, 
but the many popularizers, sociologists, educators, ad-agency 



manipulators, magazine writers, child experts, marriage counselors, 
ministers, cocktail-party authorities—could not have known what 
Freud himself meant by penis envy. One needs only to know what 
Freud was describing, in those Victorian women, to see the fallacy in 
literally applying his theory of femininity to women today And one 
needs only to know why he described it in that way to understand that 
much of it is obsolescent, contradicted by knowledge that is part of 
every social scientist’s thinking today, but was not yet known in 
Freud’s time. 

Freud, it is generally agreed, was a most perceptive and accurate 
observer of important problems of the human personality. But in 
describing and interpreting those problems, he was a prisoner of his 
own culture. As he was creating a new framework for our culture, he 
could not escape the framework of his own. Even his genius could 
not give him, then, the knowledge of cultural processes which men 
who are not geniuses grow up with today. 

The physicist’s relativity, which in recent years has changed our 
whole approach to scientific knowledge, is harder, and therefore 
easier to understand than the social scientist’s relativity. It is not a 
slogan, but a fundamental statement about truth to say that no social 
scientist can completely free himself from the prison of his own 
culture; he can only interpret what he observes in the scientific 
framework of his own time. This is true even of the great innovators. 
They cannot help but translate their revolutionary observations into 
language and rubrics that have been determined by the progress of 
science up until their time. Even those discoveries that create new 
rubrics are relative to the vantage point of their creator. 

The knowledge of other cultures, the understanding of cultural 
relativity, which is part of the framework of social scientists in our 
own time, was unknown to Freud. Much of what Freud believed to be 
biological, instinctual, and changeless has been shown by modern 
research to be a result of specific cultural causes.- Much of what 
Freud described as characteristic of universal human nature was 
merely characteristic of certain middle-class European men and 
women at the end of the nineteenth century. 

For instance, Freud’s theory of the sexual origin of neurosis stems 
from the fact that many of the patients he first observed suffered from 
hysteria—and in those cases, he found sexual repression to be the 
cause. Orthodox Freudians still profess to believe in the sexual origin 
of all neurosis, and since they look for unconscious sexual memories 


in their patients, and translate what they hear into sexual symbols, 
they still manage to find what they are looking for. 

But the fact is, cases of hysteria as observed by Freud are much 
more rare today In Freud’s time, evidently, cultural hypocrisy forced 
the repression of sex. (Some social theorists even suspect that the 
very absence of other concerns, in that dying Austrian empire, caused 
the sexual preoccupation of Freud’s patients.-) Certainly the fact that 
his culture denied sex focused Freud’s interest on it. He then 
developed his theory by describing all the stages of growth as sexual, 
fitting all the phenomena he observed into sexual rubrics. 

His attempt to translate all psychological phenomena into sexual 
terms, and to see all problems of adult personality as the effect of 
childhood sexual fixations also stemmed, in part, from his own 
background in medicine, and from the approach to causation implicit 
in the scientific thought of his time. He had the same diffidence about 
dealing with psychological phenomena in their own terms which 
often plagues scientists of human behavior. Something that could be 
described in physiological terms, linked to an organ of anatomy, 
seemed more comfortable, solid, real, scientific, as he moved into the 
unexplored country of the unconscious mind. As his biographer, 
Ernest Jones, put it, he made a “desperate effort to cling to the safety 
of cerebral anatomy.”- Actually, he had the ability to see and 
describe psychological phenomena so vividly that whether his 
concepts were given names borrowed from physiology, philosophy 
or literature—penis envy, ego, Oedipus complex—they seemed to 
have a concrete physical reality. Psychological facts, as Jones said, 
were “as real and concrete to him as metals are to a metallurgist. ”- 
This ability became a source of great confusion as his concepts were 
passed down by lesser thinkers. 

The whole superstructure of Freudian theory rests on the strict 
determinism that characterized the scientific thinking of the Victorian 
era. Determinism has been replaced today by a more complex view 
of cause and effect, in terms of physical processes and phenomena as 
well as psychological. In the new view, behavioral scientists do not 
need to borrow language from physiology to explain psychological 
events, or give them pseudo-reality. Sexual phenomena are no more 
nor less real than, for instance, the phenomenon of Shakespeare’s 
writing Hamlet, which cannot exactly be “explained” by reducing it 
to sexual terms. Even Freud himself cannot be explained by his own 


deterministic, physiological blueprint, though his biographer traces 
his genius, his “divine passion for knowledge” to an insatiable sexual 
curiosity, before the age of three, as to what went on between his 
mother and father in the bedroom. - 

Today biologists, social scientists, and increasing numbers of 
psychoanalysts see the need or impulse to human growth as a primary 
human need, as basic as sex. The “oral” and “anal” stages which 
Freud described in terms of sexual development—the child gets his 
sexual pleasure first by mouth, from mother’s breast, then from his 
bowel movements—are now seen as stages of human growth, 
influenced by cultural circumstances and parental attitudes as well as 
by sex. When the teeth grow, the mouth can bite as well as suck. 
Muscle and brain also grow; the child becomes capable of control, 
mastery, understanding; and his need to grow and learn, at five, 
twenty-five, or fifty, can be satisfied, denied, repressed, atrophied, 
evoked or discouraged by his culture as can his sexual needs. 

Child specialists today confirm Freud’s observation that 
problems between mother and child in the earliest stages are often 
played out in terms of eating; later in toilet training. And yet in 
America in recent years there has been a noticeable decline in 
children’s “eating problems.” Has the child’s instinctual 
development changed? Impossible, if by definition, the oral stage is 
instinctual. Or has the culture removed eating as a focus for early 
childhood problems—by the American emphasis on permissiveness 
in child care, or simply by the fact that in our affluent society food 
has become less a cause for anxiety in mothers? Because of Freud’s 
own influence on our culture, educated parents are usually careful not 
to put conflict-producing pressures on toilet training. Such conflicts 
are more likely to occur today as the child learns to talk or read.- 

In the 1940’s, American social scientists and psychoanalysts had 
already begun to reinterpret Freudian concepts in the light of their 
growing cultural awareness. But, curiously, this did not prevent their 
literal application of Freud’s theory of femininity to American 
women. 

The fact is that to Freud, even more than to the magazine editor on 
Madison Avenue today, women were a strange, inferior, less-than- 
human species. He saw them as childlike dolls, who existed in terms 
only of man’s love, to love man and serve his needs. It was the same 
kind of unconscious solipsism that made man for many centuries see 


the sun only as a bright object that revolved around the earth. Freud 
grew up with this attitude built in by his culture—not only the culture 
of Victorian Europe, but that Jewish culture in which men said the 
daily prayer: “I thank Thee, Lord, that Thou hast not created me a 
woman,” and women prayed in submission: “I thank Thee, Lord, that 
Thou has created me according to Thy will.” 

Freud’s mother was the pretty, docile bride of a man twice her 
age; his father ruled the family with an autocratic authority traditional 
in Jewish families during those centuries of persecution when the 
fathers were seldom able to establish authority in the outside world. 
His mother adored the young Sigmund, her first son, and thought him 
mystically destined for greatness; she seemed to exist only to gratify 
his every wish. His own memories of the sexual jealousy he felt for 
his father, whose wishes she also gratified, were the basis of his 
theory of the Oedipus complex. With his wife, as with his mother and 
sisters, his needs, his desires, his wishes, were the sun around which 
the household revolved. When the noise of his sisters’ practicing the 
piano interrupted his studies, “the piano disappeared,” Anna Freud 
recalled years later, “and with it all opportunities for his sisters to 
become musicians.” 

Freud did not see this attitude as a problem, or cause for any 
problem, in women. It was woman’s nature to be ruled by man, and 
her sickness to envy him. Freud’s letters to Martha, his future wife, 
written during the four years of their engagement (1882-1886) have 
the fond, patronizing sound of Torvald in A Dolls House , scolding 
Nora for her pretenses at being human. Freud was beginning to probe 
the secrets of the human brain in the laboratory at Vienna; Martha 
was to wait, his “sweet child,” in her mother’s custody for four 
years, until he could come and fetch her. From these letters one can 
see that to him her identity was defined as child-housewife, even 
when she was no longer a child and not yet a housewife. 

Tables and chairs, beds, mirrors, a clock to remind the happy 
couple of the passage of time, an armchair for an hour’s pleasant 
daydreaming, carpets to help the housewife keep the floors 
clean, linen tied with pretty ribbons in the cupboard and dresses 
of the latest fashion and hats with artificial flowers, pictures on 
the wall, glasses for everyday and others for wine and festive 
occasions, plates and dishes.. .and the sewing table and the cozy 
lamp, and everything must be kept in good order or else the 



housewife who has divided her heart into little bits, one for each 
piece of furniture, will begin to fret. And this object must bear 
witness to the serious work that holds the household together, 
and that object, to a feeling for beauty, to dear friends one likes 
to remember, to cities one has visited, to hours one wants to 
recall.... Are we to hang our hearts on such little things? Yes, 
and without hesitation.... 

I know, after all, how sweet you are, how you can turn a 
house into a paradise, how you will share in my interests, how 
gay yet painstaking you will be. I will let you rule the house as 
much as you wish, and you will reward me with your sweet love 
and by rising above all those weaknesses for which women are 
so often despised. As far as my activities allow, we shall read 
together what we want to learn, and I will initiate you into things 
which could not interest a girl as long as she is unfamiliar with 
her future companion and his occupation.. .- 


On July 5, 1885, he scolds her for continuing to visit Elise, a 
friend who evidently is less than demure in her regard for men: 

What is the good of your feeling that you are now so mature 
that this relationship can’t do you any harm?...You are far too 
soft, and this is something I have got to correct, for what one of 
us does will also be charged to the other’s account. You are my 
precious little woman and even if you make a mistake, you are 
none the less so.... But you know all this, my sweet child.. .- 


The Victorian mixture of chivalry and condescension which is 
found in Freud’s scientific theories about women is explicit in a 
letter he wrote on November 5, 1883, deriding John Stuart Mills’ 
views on “female emancipation and the woman’s question 
altogether.” 

In his whole presentation, it never emerges that women are 
different beings—we will not say lesser, rather the opposite— 
from men. He finds the suppression of women an analogy to that 
of Negroes. Any girl, even without a suffrage or legal 


competence, whose hand a man kisses and for whose love he is 
prepared to dare all, could have set him right. It is really a 
stillborn thought to send women into the struggle for existence 
exactly as man. If, for instance, I imagined my gentle sweet girl 
as a competitor, it would only end in my telling her, as I did 
seventeen months ago, that I am fond of her and that I implore 
her to withdraw from the strife into the calm, uncompetitive 
activity of my home. It is possible that changes in upbringing 
may suppress all a woman’s tender attributes, needful of 
protection and yet so victorious, and that she can then earn a 
livelihood like men. It is also possible that in such an event one 
would not be justified in mourning the passing away of the most 
delightful thing the world can offer us—our ideal of 
womanhood. I believe that all reforming action in law and 
education would break down in front of the fact that, long before 
the age at which a man can earn a position in society, Nature has 
determined woman’s destiny through beauty, charm, and 
sweetness. Law and custom have much to give women that has 
been withheld from them, but the position of women will surely 
be what it is: in youth an adored darling and in mature years a 
loved wife.- 


Since all of Freud’s theories rested, admittedly, on his own 
penetrating, unending psychoanalysis of himself, and since sexuality 
was the focus of all his theories, certain paradoxes about his own 
sexuality seem pertinent. His writings, as many scholars have noted, 
give much more attention to infantile sexuality than to its mature 
expression. His chief biographer, Jones, pointed out that he was, 
even for those times, exceptionally chaste, puritanical and moralistic. 
In his own life, he was relatively uninterested in sex. There were 
only the adoring mother of his youth, at sixteen a romance that existed 
purely in fantasy with a girl named Gisele, and his engagement to 
Martha at twenty-six. The nine months when they both lived in Vienna 
were not too happy because she was, evidently, uneasy and afraid of 
him; but separated by a comfortable distance for four years, there 
was a “grande passion” of 900 love letters. After their marriage, the 
passion seems to have quickly disappeared, though his biographers 
note that he was too rigid a moralist to seek sexual satisfaction 
outside of marriage. The only woman on whom, as an adult, he ever 


focused the violent passions of love and hate of which he was 
capable was Martha, during the early years of their engagement. After 
that, such emotions were focused on men. As Jones, his respectful 
biographer, said: “Freud’s deviation from the average in this respect, 
as well as his pronounced mental bisexuality, may well have 
influenced his theoretical views to some extent.”— 

Less reverent biographers, and even Jones himself, point out that 
when one considers Freud’s theories in terms of his own life, one is 
reminded of the puritanical old maid who sees sex everywhere.— It is 
interesting to note that his main complaint about his docile hausffau 
was that she was not “docile” enough—and yet, in interesting 
ambivalence, that she was not “at her ease” with him, that she was 
not able to be a “comrade-in-arms.” 

But, as Freud was painfully to discover, she was not at heart 
docile and she had a firmness of character that did not readily 
lend itself to being molded. Her personality was fully 
developed and well integrated: it would well deserve the 
psychoanalyst’s highest compliment of being “normal.”— 


One gets a glimpse of Freud’s “intention, never to be fulfilled, to 
mold her to his perfect image,” when he wrote her that she must 
“become quite young, a sweetheart, only a week old, who will 
quickly lose every trace of tartness.” But he then reproaches himself: 

The loved one is not to become a toy doll, but a good 
comrade who still has a sensible word left when the strict 
master has come to the end of his wisdom And I have been 
trying to smash her frankness so that she should reserve opinion 
until she is sure of mine.— 


As Jones pointed out, Freud was pained when she did not meet 
his chief test—“complete identification with himself, his opinions, 
his feelings, and his intentions. She was not really his unless he could 
perceive his ‘stamp’ on her.” Freud “even admitted that it was boring 
if one could find nothing in the other person to put right.” And he 
stresses again that Freud’s love “could be set free and displayed only 


under very favorable conditions.... Martha was probably afraid of 
her masterful lover and she would commonly take refuge in 
silence.”— 

So, he eventually wrote her, “I renounce what I demanded. I do 
not need a comrade-in-arms, such as I hoped to make you into. I am 
strong enough to fight alone.... You remain for me a precious sweet, 
loved one.”— Thus evidently ended “the only time in his life when 
such emotions [love and hate] centered on a woman.”— 

The marriage was conventional, but without that passion. As 
Jones described it: 

There can have been few more successful marriages. Martha 
certainly made an excellent wife and mother. She was an 
admirable manager—the rare kind of woman who could keep 
servants indefinitely—but she was never the kind of Hausfrau 
who put things before people. Her husband’s comfort and 
convenience always ranked first.... It was not to be expected 
that she should follow the roaming flights of his imagination any 

more than most of the world could. 


She was as devoted to his physical needs as the most doting 
Jewish mother, organizing each meal on a rigid schedule to fit the 
convenience of “der Papa.” But she never dreamed of sharing his life 
as an equal. Nor did Freud consider her a fit guardian for their 
children, especially of their education, in case of his death. He 
himself recalls a dream in which he forgets to call for her at the 
theater. His associations “imply that forgetting may be permissible in 
unimportant matters.”— 

That limitless subservience of woman taken for granted by 
Freud’s culture, the very lack of opportunity for independent action 
or personal identity, seems often to have generated that uneasiness 
and inhibition in the wife, and that irritation in the husband, which 
characterized Freud’s marriage. As Jones summed it up, Freud’s 
attitude toward women “could probably be called rather old- 
fashioned, and it would be easy to ascribe this to his social 
environment and the period in which he grew up rather than to any 
personal factors.” 


Whatever his intellectual opinions may have been in the 
matter, there are many indications in his writing and 
correspondence of his emotional attitude. It would certainly be 
going too far to say that he regarded the male sex as the lords of 
creation, for there was no tinge of arrogance or superiority in 
his nature, but it might perhaps be fair to describe his view of 
the female sex as having as their main function to be ministering 
angels to the needs and comforts of men. His letters and his love 
choice make it plain that he had only one type of sexual object in 
his mind, a gentle feminine one.... 


There is little doubt that Freud found the psychology of 
women more enigmatic than that of men. He said once to Marie 
Bonaparte: “The great question that has never been answered 
and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty 
years of research into the feminine soul, is, what does a woman 
want?”— 


Jones also remarked: 

Freud was also interested in another type of woman, of a 
more intellectual and perhaps masculine cast. Such women 
several times played a part in his life, accessory to his men 
friends though of a finer caliber, but they had no erotic attraction 
for him— 


These women included his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays, much 
more intelligent and independent than Martha, and later women 
analysts or adherents of the psychoanalytic movement: Marie 
Bonaparte, Joan Riviere, Lou Andreas-Salome. There is no 
suspicion, however, from either idolators or hostile biographers that 
he ever sought sexual satisfaction outside his marriage. Thus it would 
seem that sex was completely divorced from his human passions, 
which he expressed throughout the productive later years of his long 
life in his thought and, to a lesser extent, in friendships with men and 


those women he considered his equals, and thus “masculine.” He 
once said: “I always find it uncanny when I can’t understand someone 
in terms of myself.”— 

Despite the importance of sex in Freud’s theory, one gets from his 
words the impression that the sex act appeared degrading to him; if 
women themselves were so degraded, in the eyes of man, how could 
sex appear in any other light? That was not his theory, of course. To 
Freud, it was the idea of incest with mother or sister that makes man 
“regard the sex act as something degrading, which soils and 
contaminates not only the body.”— In any event, the degradation of 
women was taken for granted by Freud—and is the key to his theory 
of femininity. The motive force of woman’s personality, in Freud’s 
theory, was her envy of the penis, which causes her to feel as much 
depreciated in her own eyes “as in the eyes of the boy, and later 
perhaps of the man,” and leads, in normal femininity, to the wish for 
the penis of her husband, a wish that is never really fulfilled until she 
possesses a penis through giving birth to a son. In short, she is merely 
an “homme manque,” a man with something missing. As the eminent 
psychoanalyst Clara Thompson put it: “Freud never became free from 
the Victorian attitude toward women. He accepted as an inevitable 
part of the fate of being a woman the limitation of outlook and life of 
the Victorian era.... The castration complex and penis envy concepts, 
two of the most basic ideas in his whole thinking, are postulated on 
the assumption that women are biologically inferior to men.”— 

What did Freud mean by the concept of penis envy? For even 
those who realize that Freud could not escape his culture do not 
question that he reported truly what he observed within it. Freud 
found the phenomenon he called penis envy so unanimous, in middle- 
class women in Vienna, in that Victorian time, that he based his 
whole theory of femininity on it. He said, in a lecture on “The 
Psychology of Women”: 

In the boy the castration-complex is formed after he has 
learned from the sight of the female genitals that the sexual organ 
which he prizes so highly is not a necessary part of every 
woman’s body...and thenceforward he comes under the 
influence of castration-anxiety, which supplies the strongest 
motive force for his further development. The castration- 


complex in the girl, as well, is started by the sight of the genital 
organs of the other sex. She immediately notices the difference 
and, it must be admitted, its significance. She feels herself at a 
great disadvantage, and often declares that she would like to 
have something like that too and falls a victim to penis envy, 
which leaves ineradicable traces on her development and 
character-formation, and even in the most favorable instances, is 
not overcome without a great expenditure of mental energy. That 
the girl recognizes the fact that she lacks a penis does not mean 
that she accepts its absence lightly. On the contrary, she clings 
for a long time to the desire to get something like it, and 
believes in that possibility for an extraordinary number of years; 
and even at a time when her knowledge of reality has long since 
led her to abandon the fulfillment of this desire as being quite 
unattainable, analysis proves that it still persists in the 
unconscious, and retains a considerable charge of energy. The 
desire after all to obtain the penis for which she so much longs 
may even contribute to the motives that impel a grown-up 
woman to come to analysis, and what she quite reasonably 
expects to get from analysis, such as the capacity to pursue an 
intellectual career, can often be recognized as a sublimated 
modification of this repressed wish.— 


“The discovery of her castration is a turning-point in the life of 
the girl,” Freud went on to say. “She is wounded in her self-love by 
the unfavorable comparison with the boy, who is so much better 
equipped.” Her mother, and all women, are depreciated in her own 
eyes, as they are depreciated for the same reason in the eyes of man. 
This either leads to complete sexual inhibition and neurosis, or to a 
“masculinity complex” in which she refuses to give up “phallic” 
activity (that is, “activity such as is usually characteristic of the 
male”) or to “normal femininity,” in which the girl’s own impulses to 
activity are repressed, and she turns to her father in her wish for the 
penis. “The feminine situation is, however, only established when the 
wish for the penis is replaced by the wish for a child—the child 
taking the place of the penis.” When she played with dolls, this “was 
not really an expression of her femininity,” since this was activity, 
not passivity. The “strongest feminine wish,” the desire for a penis, 
finds real fulfillment only “if the child is a little boy, who brings the 


longed-for penis with him.... The mother can transfer to her son all 
the ambition she has had to suppress in herself, and she can hope to 
get from him the satisfaction of all that has remained to her of her 
masculinity complex.”— 

But her inherent deficiency, and the resultant penis envy, is so 
hard to overcome that the woman’s superego—her conscience, ideals 
—are never as completely formed as a man’s: “women have but little 
sense of justice, and this is no doubt connected with the 
preponderance of envy in their mental life.” For the same reason, 
women’s interests in society are weaker than those of men, and “their 
capacity for the sublimation of their instincts is less.” Finally, Freud 
cannot refrain from mentioning “an impression which one receives 
over and over again in analytical work”—that not even 
psychoanalysis can do much for women, because of the inherent 
deficiency of femininity. 

A man of about thirty seems a youthful, and, in a sense, an 
incompletely developed individual, of whom we expect that he 
will be able to make good use of the possibilities of 
development, which analysis lays open to him. But a woman of 
about the same age, frequently staggers us by her psychological 
rigidity and unchangeability.... There are no paths open to her 
for further development; it is as though the whole process had 
been gone through and remained unaccessible to influence for 
the future; as though, in fact, the difficult development which 
leads to femininity had exhausted all the possibilities of the 
individual ...even when we are successful in removing the 
sufferings by solving her neurotic conflict.— 


What was he really reporting? If one interprets “penis envy” as 
other Freudian concepts have been reinterpreted, in the light of our 
new knowledge that what Freud believed to be biological was often 
a cultural reaction, one sees simply that Victorian culture gave 
women many reasons to envy men: the same conditions, in fact, that 
the feminists fought against. If a woman who was denied the freedom, 
the status and the pleasures that men enjoyed wished secretly that she 
could have these things, in the shorthand of the dream, she might wish 
herself a man and see herself with that one thing which made men 


unequivocally different—the penis. She would, of course, have to 
learn to keep her envy, her anger, hidden: to play the child, the doll, 
the toy, for her destiny depended on charming man. But underneath, it 
might still fester, sickening her for love. If she secretly despised 
herself, and envied man for all she was not, she might go through the 
motions of love, or even feel a slavish adoration, but would she be 
capable of free and joyous love? You cannot explain away woman’s 
envy of man, or her contempt for herself, as mere refusal to accept 
her sexual deformity, unless you think that a woman, by nature, is a 
being inferior to man. Then, of course, her wish to be equal is 
neurotic. 

It is recognized now that Freud never gave proper attention, even 
in man, to growth of the ego or self: “the impulse to master, control 
or come to self-fulfilling terms with the environment.”— Analysts 
who have freed themselves from Freud’s bias and joined other 
behavioral scientists in studying the human need to grow, are 
beginning to believe that this is the basic human need, and that 
interference with it, in any dimension, is the source of psychic 
trouble. The sexual is only one dimension of the human potential. 
Freud, it must be remembered, thought all neuroses were sexual in 
origin; he saw women only in terms of their sexual relationship with 
men. But in all those women in whom he saw sexual problems, there 
must have been very severe problems of blocked growth, growth 
short of full human identity—an immature, incomplete self. Society as 
it was then, by explicit denial of education and independence, 
prevented women from realizing their full potential, or from attaining 
those interests and ideals that might have stimulated their growth. 
Freud reported these deficiencies, but could only explain them as the 
toll of “penis envy.” He saw women’s envy of man only as sexual 
sickness. He saw that women who secretly hungered to be man’s 
equal would not enjoy being his object; and in this, he seemed to be 
describing a fact. But when he dismissed woman’s yearning for 
equality as “penis envy,” was he not merely stating his own view that 
women could never really be man’s equal, any more than she could 
wear his penis? 

Freud was not concerned with changing society, but in helping 
man, and woman, adjust to it. Thus he tells of a case of a middle-aged 
spinster whom he succeeded in freeing from a symptom-complex that 
prevented her from taking any part in life for fifteen years. Freed of 
these symptoms she “plunged into a whirl of activity in order to 


develop her talents, which were by no means small, and derive a 
little appreciation, enjoyment, and success from life before it was too 
late.” But all her attempts ended when she saw that there was no 
place for her. Since she could no longer relapse into her neurotic 
symptoms, she began to have accidents; she sprained her ankle, her 
foot, her hand. When this also was analyzed, “instead of accidents, 
she contracted on the same occasions slight illnesses, such as catarrh, 
sore throat, influenzal conditions or rheumatic swellings, until at last, 
when she made up her mind to resign herself to inactivity, the whole 
business came to an end.”— 

Even if Freud and his contemporaries considered women inferior 
by God-given, irrevocable nature, science does not justify such a 
view today. That inferiority, we now know, was caused by their lack 
of education, their confinement to the home. Today, when women’s 
equal intelligence has been proved by science, when their equal 
capacity in every sphere except sheer muscular strength has been 
demonstrated, a theory explicitly based on woman’s natural 
inferiority would seem as ridiculous as it is hypocritical. But that 
remains the basis of Freud’s theory of women, despite the mask of 
timeless sexual truth which disguises its elaborations today. 

Because Freud’s followers could only see woman in the image 
defined by Freud—inferior, childish, helpless, with no possibility of 
happiness unless she adjusted to being man’s passive object—they 
wanted to help women get rid of their suppressed envy, their neurotic 
desire to be equal. They wanted to help women find sexual 
fulfillment as women, by affirming their natural inferiority. 

But society, which defined that inferiority, had changed 
drastically by the time Freud’s followers transposed bodily to 
twentieth-century America the causes as well as the cures of the 
condition Freud called penis envy. In the light of our new knowledge 
of cultural processes and of human growth, one would assume that 
women who grew up with the rights and freedom and education that 
Victorian women were denied would be different from the women 
Freud tried to cure. One would assume that they would have much 
less reason to envy man. But Freud was interpreted to American 
woman in such curiously literal terms that the concept of penis envy 
acquired a mystical life of its own, as if it existed quite independent 
of the women in whom it had been observed. It was as if Freud’s 
Victorian image of woman became more real than the twentieth- 
century women to whom it was applied. Freud’s theory of femininity 


was seized in America with such literalness that women today were 
considered no different than Victorian women. The real injustices life 
held for women a century ago, compared to men, were dismissed as 
mere rationalizations of penis envy And the real opportunities life 
offered to women now, compared to women then, were forbidden in 
the name of penis envy. 

The literal application of Freudian theory can be seen in these 
passages from Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, by the psychoanalyst 
Marynia Farnham and the sociologist Ferdinand Lundberg, which 
was paraphrased ad nauseam in the magazines and in marriage 
courses, until most of its statements became a part of the 
conventional, accepted truth of our time. Equating feminism with 
penis envy, they stated categorically: 

Feminism, despite the external validity of its political 
program and most (not all) of its social program, was at its core 
a deep illness.... The dominant direction of feminine training 
and development today...discourages just those traits necessary 
to the attainment of sexual pleasure: receptivity and passiveness, 
a willingness to accept dependence without fear or resentment, 
with a deep inwardness and readiness for the final goal of 
sexual life—impregnation.... 

It is not in the capacity of the female organism to attain 
feelings of well-being by the route of male achievement.... It 
was the error of the feminists that they attempted to put women 
on the essentially male road of exploit, off the female road of 
nurture.... 

The psychosocial rule that begins to take form, then, is this: 
the more educated the woman is, the greater chance there is of 
sexual disorder, more or less severe. The greater the disordered 
sexuality in a given group of women, the fewer children do they 
have.... Fate has granted them the boon importuned by Lady 
Macbeth; they have been unsexed, not only in the matter of 
giving birth, but in their feelings of pleasure.— 


Thus Freud’s popularizers embedded his core of unrecognized 
traditional prejudice against women ever deeper in pseudoscientific 
cement. Freud was well aware of his own tendency to build an 


enormous body of deductions from a single fact—a fertile and 
creative method, but a two-edged sword, if the significance of that 
single fact was misinterpreted. Freud wrote Jung in 1909: 

Your surmise that after my departure my errors might be 
adored as holy relics amused me enormously, but I don’t believe 
it. On the contrary, I think that my followers will hasten to 
demolish as swiftly as possible everything that is not safe and 
sound in what I leave behind.— 


But on the subject of women, Freud’s followers not only 
compounded his errors, but in their tortuous attempt to fit their 
observations of real women into his theoretical framework, closed 
questions that he himself had left open. Thus, for instance, Helene 
Deutsch, whose definitive two-volume The Psychology of Woman — 
A Psychoanalytical Interpretation appeared in 1944, is not able to 
trace all women’s troubles to penis envy as such. So she does what 
even Freud found unwise, and equates “femininity” with “passivity,” 
and “masculinity” with “activity,” not only in the sexual sphere, but 
in all spheres of life. 

While fully recognizing that woman’s position is subjected to 
external influence, I venture to say that the fundamental identities 
“feminine-passive” and “masculine-active” assert themselves in 
all known cultures and races, in various forms and various 
quantitative proportions. 

Very often a woman resists this characteristic given her by 
nature and in spite of certain advantages she derives from it, 
displays many modes of behavior that suggest that she is not 
entirely content with her own constitution...the expression of 
this dissatisfaction, combined with attempts to remedy it, result 
in woman’s “masculinity complex.”— 


The “masculinity complex,” as Dr. Deutsch refines it, stems 
directly from the “female castration complex.” Thus, anatomy is still 
destiny, woman is still an “homme manque.” Of course, Dr. Deutsch 
mentions in passing that “With regard to the girl, however, the 


environment exerts an inhibiting influence as regards both her 
aggressions and her activity.” So, penis envy, deficient female 
anatomy, and society “all seem to work together to produce 
femininity.”— 

“Normal” femininity is achieved, however, only insofar as the 
woman finally renounces all active goals of her own, all her own 
“originality,” to identify and fulfill herself through the activities and 
goals of husband, or son. This process can be sublimated in 
nonsexual ways—as, for instance, the woman who does the basic 
research for her male superior’s discoveries. The daughter who 
devotes her life to her father is also making a satisfactory feminine 
“sublimation.” Only activity of her own or originality, on a basis of 
equality, deserves the opprobrium of “masculinity complex.” This 
brilliant feminine follower of Freud states categorically that the 
women who by 1944 in America had achieved eminence by activity 
of their own in various fields had done so at the expense of their 
feminine fulfillment. She will mention no names, but they all suffer 
from the “masculinity complex.” 

How could a girl or woman who was not a psychoanalyst 
discount such ominous pronouncements, which, in the forties, 
suddenly began to pour out from all the oracles of sophisticated 
thought? 

It would be ridiculous to suggest that the way Freudian theories 
were used to brainwash two generations of educated American 
women was part of a psychoanalytic conspiracy. It was done by 
well-meaning popularizers and inadvertent distorters; by orthodox 
converts and bandwagon faddists; by those who suffered and those 
who cured and those who turned suffering to profit; and, above all, by 
a congruence of forces and needs peculiar to the American people at 
that particular time. In fact, the literal acceptance in the American 
culture of Freud’s theory of feminine fulfillment was in tragicomic 
contrast to the personal struggle of many American psychoanalysts to 
reconcile what they saw in their women patients with Freudian 
theory. The theory said women should be able to fulfill themselves as 
wives and mothers if only they could be analyzed out of their 
“masculine strivings,” their “penis envy.” But it wasn’t as easy as 
that. “I don’t know why American women are so dissatisfied,” a 
Westchester analyst insisted. “Penis envy seems so difficult to 
eradicate in American women, somehow.” 

A New York analyst, one of the last trained at Freud’s own 


Psychoanalytic Institute in Vienna, told me: 


For twenty years now in analyzing American women, I have 
found myself again and again in the position of having to 
superimpose Freud’s theory of femininity on the psychic life of 
my patients in a way that I was not willing to do. I have come to 
the conclusion that penis envy simply does not exist. I have seen 
women who are completely expressive, sexually, vaginally, and 
yet who are not mature, integrated, fulfilled. I had a woman 
patient on the couch for nearly two years before I could face her 
real problem—that it was not enough for her to be just a 
housewife and mother. One day she had a dream that she was 
teaching a class. I could not dismiss the powerful yearning of 
this housewife’s dream as penis envy. It was the expression of 
her own need for mature self-fulfillment. I told her: “I can’t 
analyze this dream away. You must do something about it.” 


This same man teaches the young analysts in his postgraduate 
clinicum at a leading Eastern university: “If the patient doesn’t fit the 
book, throw away the book, and listen to the patient.” 

But many analysts threw the book at their patients and Freudian 
theories became accepted fact even among women who never lay 
down on an analyst’s couch, but only knew what they read or heard. 
To this day, it has not penetrated to the popular culture that the 
pervasive growing frustration of American women may not be a 
matter of feminine sexuality. Some analysts, it is true, modified the 
theories drastically to fit their patients, or even discarded them 
altogether—but these facts never permeated the public awareness. 
Freud was accepted so quickly and completely at the end of the 
forties that for over a decade no one even questioned the race of the 
educated American woman back to the home. When questions finally 
had to be asked because something was obviously going wrong, they 
were asked so completely within the Freudian framework that only 
one answer was possible: education, freedom, rights are wrong for 
women. 

The uncritical acceptance of Freudian doctrine in America was 
caused, at least in part, by the very relief it provided from 
uncomfortable questions about objective realities. After the 
depression, after the war, Freudian psychology became much more 



than a science of human behavior, a therapy for the suffering. It 
became an all-embracing American ideology, a new religion. It filled 
the vacuum of thought and purpose that existed for many for whom 
God, or flag, or bank account were no longer sufficient—and yet who 
were tired of feeling responsible for lynchings and concentration 
camps and the starving children of India and Africa. It provided a 
convenient escape from the atom bomb, McCarthy, all the 
disconcerting problems that might spoil the taste of steaks, and cars 
and color television and backyard swimming pools. It gave us 
permission to suppress the troubling questions of the larger world 
and pursue our own personal pleasures. And if the new psychological 
religion—which made a virtue of sex, removed all sin from private 
vice, and cast suspicion on high aspirations of the mind and spirit— 
had a more devastating personal effect on women than men, nobody 
planned it that way. 

Psychology, long preoccupied with its own scientific inferiority 
complex, long obsessed with neat little laboratory experiments that 
gave the illusion of reducing human complexity to the simple 
measurable behavior of rats in a maze, was transformed into a life- 
giving crusade that swept across the barren fields of American 
thought. Freud was the spiritual leader, his theories were the bible. 
And how exciting and real and important it all was. Its mysterious 
complexity was part of its charm to bored Americans. And if some of 
it remained impenetrably mystifying, who would admit that he could 
not understand it? America became the center of the psychoanalytic 
movement, as Freudian, Jungian and Adlerian analysts fled from 
Vienna and Berlin and new schools flourished on the multiplying 
neuroses, and dollars, of Americans. 

But the practice of psychoanalysis as a therapy was not primarily 
responsible for the feminine mystique. It was the creation of writers 
and editors in the mass media, ad-agency motivation researchers, and 
behind them the popularizers and translators of Freudian thought in 
the colleges and universities. Freudian and pseudo-Freudian theories 
settled everywhere, like fine volcanic ash. Sociology, anthropology, 
education, even the study of history and literature became permeated 
and transfigured by Freudian thought. The most zealous missionaries 
of the feminine mystique were the functionalists, who seized hasty 
gulps of predigested Freud to start their new departments of 
“Marriage and Family Life Education.” The functional courses in 
marriage taught American college girls how to “play the role” of 



woman—the old role became a new science. Related movements 
outside the colleges—parent education, child-study groups, prenatal 
maternity study groups and mental-health education—spread the new 
psychological superego throughout the land, replacing bridge and 
canasta as an entertainment for educated young wives. And this 
Freudian superego worked for growing numbers of young and 
impressionable American women as Freud said the superego works 
—to perpetuate the past. 

Mankind never lives completely in the present; the 
ideologies of the supergo perpetuate the past, the traditions of 
the race and the people, which yield but slowly to the influence 
of the present and to new developments, and, so long as they 
work through the superego, play an important part in man’s life, 
quite independently of economic conditions.— 


The feminine mystique, elevated by Freudian theory into a 
scientific religion, sounded a single, overprotective, life-restricting, 
future-denying note for women. Girls who grew up playing baseball, 
baby-sitting, mastering geometry—almost independent enough, 
almost resourceful enough, to meet the problems of the fission-fusion 
era—were told by the most advanced thinkers of our time to go back 
and live their lives as if they were Noras, restricted to the doll’s 
house by Victorian prejudice. And their own respect and awe for the 
authority of science—anthropology, sociology, psychology share that 
authority now—kept them from questioning the feminine mystique. 


The Functional Freeze, the Feminine Protest, and Margaret 
Mead 


Instead of destroying the old prejudices that restricted women’s 
lives, social science in America merely gave them new authority. By 
a curious circular process, the insights of psychology and 
anthropology and sociology, which should have been powerful 
weapons to free women, somehow canceled each other out, trapping 
women in dead center. 

During the last twenty years, under the catalytic impact of 
Freudian thought, psychoanalysts, anthropologists, sociologists, 
social psychologists, and other workers in the behavioral sciences 
have met in professional seminars and foundation-financed 
conferences in many university centers. Cross-fertilization seemed to 
make them all bloom, but some strange hybrids were produced. As 
psychoanalysts began to reinterpret Freudian concepts like “oral” and 
“anal” personality in the light of an awareness, borrowed from 
anthropology, that cultural processes must have been at work in 
Freud’s Vienna, anthropologists set out for the South Sea islands to 
chart tribal personality according to literal “oral” and “anal” tables. 
Armed with “psychological hints for ethnological field workers,” the 
anthropologists often found what they were looking for. Instead of 
translating, sifting, the cultural bias out of Freudian theories, 
Margaret Mead, and the others who pioneered in the fields of culture 
and personality, compounded the error by fitting their own 
anthropological observations into Freudian rubric. But none of this 
might have had the same freezing effect on women if it had not been 
for a simultaneous aberration of American social scientists called 
functionalism. 

Centering primarily on cultural anthropology and sociology and 
reaching its extremes in the applied field of family-life education, 
functionalism began as an attempt to make social science more 
“scientific” by borrowing from biology the idea of studying 
institutions as if they were muscles or bones, in terms of their 



“structure” and “function” in the social body. By studying an 
institution only in terms of its function within its own society, the 
social scientists intended to avert unscientific value judgments. In 
practice, functionalism was less a scientific movement than a 
scientific word-game. “The function is” was often translated “the 
function should be” the social scientists did not recognize their own 
prejudices in functional disguise any more than the analysts 
recognized theirs in Freudian disguise. By giving an absolute 
meaning and a sanctimonious value to the generic term “woman’s 
role,” functionalism put American women into a kind of deep freeze 
—like Sleeping Beauties, waiting for a Prince Charming to waken 
them, while all around the magic circle the world moved on. 

The social scientists, male and female, who, in the name of 
functionalism, drew this torturously tight circle around American 
women, also seemed to share a certain attitude which I will call “the 
feminine protest.” If there is such a thing as a masculine protest—the 
psychoanalytic concept taken over by the functionalists to describe 
women who envied men and wanted to be men and therefore denied 
that they were women and became more manly than any man—its 
counterpart can be seen today in a feminine protest, made by men and 
women alike, who deny what women really are and make more of 
“being a woman” than it could ever be. The feminine protest, at its 
most straightforward, is simply a means of protecting women from 
the dangers inherent in assuming true equality with men. But why 
should any social scientist, with godlike manipulative superiority, 
take it upon himself—or herself—to protect women from the pains of 
growing up? 

Protectiveness has often muffled the sound of doors closing 
against women; it has often cloaked a very real prejudice, even when 
it is offered in the name of science. If an old-fashioned grandfather 
frowned at Nora, who is studying calculus because she wants to be a 
physicist, and muttered, “Woman’s place is in the home,” Nora 
would laugh impatiently, “Grandpa, this is 1963.” But she does not 
laugh at the urbane pipe-smoking professor of sociology, or the book 
by Margaret Mead, or the definitive two-volume reference on female 
sexuality, when they tell her the same thing. The complex, mysterious 
language of functionalism, Freudian psychology, and cultural 
anthropology hides from her the fact that they say this with not much 
more basis than grandpa. 

So our Nora would smile at Queen Victoria’s letter, written in 



1870: “The Queen is most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak 
or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of ‘Woman’s 
Rights’ with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is 
bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety.... It is 
a subject which makes the Queen so furious that she cannot contain 
herself. God created men and women different—then let them remain 
each in their own position.” 

But she does not smile when she reads in Marriage for Moderns: 

The sexes are complementary. It is the works of my watch 
that move the hands and enable me to tell time. Are the works, 
therefore, more important than the case?...Neither is superior, 
neither inferior. Each must be judged in terms of its own 
functions. Together they form a functioning unit. So it is with 
men and women—together they form a functioning unit. Either 
alone is in a sense incomplete. They are complementary.... 
When men and women engage in the same occupations or 
perform common functions, the complementary relationship may 
break down.- 


This book was published in 1942. Girls have studied it as a 
college text for the past twenty years. Under the guise of sociology, 
or “Marriage and Family Life,” or “Life Adjustment,” they are 
offered advice of this sort: 

The fact remains, however, that we live in a world of reality, 
a world of the present and the immediate future, on which there 
rests the heavy hand of the past, a world in which tradition still 
holds sway and the mores exert a stronger influence than does 
the theorist.. .a world in which most men and women do marry 
and in which most married women are homemakers. To talk 
about what might be done if tradition and the mores were 
radically changed or what may come about by the year 2000 
may be interesting mental gymnastics, but it does not help the 
young people of today to adjust to the inevitables of life or raise 
their marriages to a higher plane of satisfaction.- 


Of course, this “adjustment to the inevitables of life” denies the 
speed with which the conditions of life are now changing—and the 
fact that many girls who so adjust at twenty will still be alive in the 
year 2000. This functionalist specifically warns against any and all 
approaches to the “differences between men and women” except 
“adjustment” to those differences as they now stand. And if, like our 
Nora, a woman is contemplating a career, he shakes a warning finger. 

For the first time in history, American young women in great 
numbers are being faced with these questions: Shall I 
voluntarily prepare myself for a lifelong, celibate career? Or 
shall I prepare for a temporary vocation, which I shall give up 
when I marry and assume the responsibilities of homemaking 
and motherhood? Or should I attempt to combine homemaking 
and a career?...The great majority of married women are 
homemakers.... 

If a woman can find adequate self-expression through a 
career rather than through marriage, well and good. Many young 
women, however, overlook the fact that there are numerous 
careers that do not furnish any medium or offer any opportunity 
for self-expression. Besides they do not realize that only the 
minority of women, as the minority of men, have anything 
particularly worthwhile to express. 


And so Nora is left with the cheerful impression that if she 
chooses a career, she is also choosing celibacy. If she has any 
illusions about combining marriage and career, the functionalist 
admonishes her: 

How many individuals.. .can successfully pursue two careers 
simultaneously? Not many. The exceptional person can do it, but 
the ordinary person cannot. The problem of combining marriage 
and homemaking with another career is especially difficult, 
since it is likely that the two pursuits will demand qualities of 
different types. The former, to be successful, requires self¬ 
negation; the latter, self-enhancement. The former demands 
cooperation; the latter competition.... There is greater 
opportunity for happiness if husband and wife supplement each 


other than there is when there is duplication of function.. 


And just in case Nora has any doubts about giving up her career 
ambitions, she is offered this comforting rationalization: 

A woman who is an effective homemaker must know 
something about teaching, interior decoration, cooking, dietetics, 
consumption, psychology, physiology, social relations, 
community resources, clothing, household equipment, housing, 
hygiene and a host of other things.... She is a general 
practitioner rather than a specialist.... 

The young woman who decides upon homemaking as her 
career need have no feeling of inferiority.... One may say, as 
some do, “Men can have careers because women make homes.” 
One may say that women are released from the necessity for 
wage earning and are free to devote their time to the extremely 
important matter of homemaking because men specialize in 
breadwinning. Or one may say that together the breadwinner and 
the homemaker form a complementary combination second to 
none.- 


This marriage textbook is not the most subtle of its school. It is 
almost too easy to see that its functional argument is based on no real 
chain of scientific fact. (It is hardly scientific to say “this is what is, 
therefore this is what should be.”) But this is the essence of 
functionalism as it came to pervade all of American sociology in this 
period, whether or not the sociologist called himself a 
“functionalist.” In colleges which would never stoop to the “role- 
playing lessons” of the so-called functional family course, young 
women were assigned Talcott Parsons’ authoritative “analysis of 
sex-roles in the social structure of the United States,” which 
contemplates no alternative for a woman other than the role of 
“housewife,” patterned with varying emphasis on “domesticity,” 
“glamour,” and “good companionship.” 

It is perhaps not too much to say that only in very exceptional 
cases can an adult man be genuinely self-respecting and enjoy a 


respected status in the eyes of others if he does not “earn a 
living” in an approved occupational role.... In the case of the 
feminine role the situation is radically different.... The woman’s 
fundamental status is that of her husband’s wife, the mother of 
his children.. .- 


Parsons, a highly respected sociologist and the leading functional 
theoretician, describes with insight and accuracy the sources of strain 
in this “segregation of sex roles.” He points out that the “domestic” 
aspect of the housewife role “has declined in importance to the point 
where it scarcely approaches a full-time occupation for a vigorous 
person”: that the “glamour pattern” is “inevitably associated with a 
rather early age level” and thus “serious strains result from the 
problem of adaptation to increasing age,” that the “good companion” 
pattern—which includes “humanistic” cultivation of the arts and 
community welfare—“suffers from a lack of fully institutionalized 
status.... It is only those with the strongest initiative and intelligence 
who achieve fully satisfying adaptations in this direction.” He states 
that “it is quite clear that in the adult feminine role there is quite 
sufficient strain and insecurity so that widespread manifestations are 
to be expected in the form of neurotic behavior.” But Parsons warns: 

It is, of course, possible for the adult woman to follow the 
masculine pattern and seek a career in fields of occupational 
achievement in direct competition with men of her own class. It 
is, however, notable that in spite of the very great progress of 
the emancipation of women from the traditional domestic pattern 
only a very small fraction have gone very far in this direction. It 
is also clear that its generalization would only be possible with 
profound alterations in the structure of the family. 


True equality between men and women would not be “functional” 
the status quo can be maintained only if the wife and mother is 
exclusively a homemaker or, at most, has a “job” rather than a 
“career” which might give her status equal to that of her husband. 
Thus Parsons finds sexual segregation “functional” in terms of 
keeping the social structure as it is, which seems to be the 


functionalist’s primary concern. 


Absolute equality of opportunity is clearly incompatible with 
any positive solidarity of the family.... Where married women 
are employed outside the home, it is, for the great majority, in 
occupations which are not in direct competition for status with 
those of men of their own class. Women’s interests, and the 
standard of judgment applied to them, run, in our society, far 
more in the direction of personal adornment.... It is suggested 
that this difference is functionally related to maintaining family 
solidarity in our class structure.- 


Even the eminent woman sociologist Mirra Komarovsky, whose 
functional analysis of how girls learn to “play the role of woman” in 
our society is brilliant indeed, cannot quite escape the rigid mold 
functionalism imposes: adjustment to the status quo. For to limit 
one’s field of inquiry to the function of an institution in a given social 
system, with no alternatives considered, provides an infinite number 
of rationalizations for all the inequalities and inequities of that 
system. It is not surprising that social scientists began to mistake their 
own function as one of helping the individual “adjust” to his “role,” 
in that system. 

A social order can function only because the vast majority 
have somehow adjusted themselves to their place in society and 
perform the functions expected of them.... The differences in the 
upbringing of the sexes...are obviously related to their 
respective roles in adult life. The future homemaker trains for 
her role within the home, but the boy prepares for his by being 
given more independence outside the home, by his taking a 
“paper route” or a summer job. A provider will profit by 

independence, dominance, aggressiveness, competitiveness.- 


The risk of the “traditional upbringing” of girls, as this sociologist 
sees it, is its possible “failure to develop in the girl the 
independence, inner resources, and that degree of self-assertion 
which life will demand of her”—in her role as wife. The functional 


warning follows: 


Even if a parent correctly [sic] considers certain 
conventional attributes of the feminine role to be worthless, he 
creates risks for the girl in forcing her to stray too far from the 
accepted mores of her time.... The steps which parents must 
take to prepare their daughters to meet economic exigencies and 
familial responsibilities of modern life—these very steps may 
awaken aspirations and develop habits which conflict with 
certain features of their feminine roles, as these are defined 
today. The very education which is to make the college 
housewife a cultural leaven of her family and her community 
may develop in her interests which are frustrated by other 
phases of housewifery.... We run the risk of awakening interests 
and abilities which, again, run counter to the present definition 
of femininity. - 


She goes on to cite the recent case of a girl who wanted to be a 
sociologist. She was engaged to a GI who didn’t want his wife to 
work. The girl herself hoped she wouldn’t find a good job in 
sociology. 

An unsatisfactory job would, she felt, make it easier for her 
to comply eventually with her future husband’s wishes. The 
needs of the country for trained workers, the uncertainty of her 
own future, her current interests notwithstanding, she took a 
routine job. Only the future will tell whether her decision was 
prudent. If her fiance returns from the front, if the marriage takes 
place, if he is able to provide for the family without her 
assistance, if her frustrated wishes do not boomerang, then she 
will not regret her decision.... 

At the present historical moment, the best adjusted girl is 
probably one who is intelligent enough to do well in school but 
not so brilliant as to get all A’s...capable but not in areas 
relatively new to women; able to stand on her own two feet and 
to earn a living, but not so good a living as to compete with men; 
capable of doing some job well (in case she doesn’t marry, or 
otherwise has to work) but not so identified with a profession as 


to need it for her happiness.— 


So, in the name of adjustment to the cultural definition of 
femininity—in which this brilliant sociologist obviously does not 
herself believe (that word “correctly” betrays her)—she ends up 
virtually endorsing the continued infantilizing of American woman, 
except insofar as it has the unintended consequence of making “the 
transition from the role of daughter to that of the spouse more difficult 
for her than for the son.” 

Essentially, it is assumed that to the extent that the woman 
remains more “infantile,” less able to make her own decisions, 
more dependent upon one or both parents for initiating and 
channeling behavior and attitudes, more closely attached to them 
so as to find it difficult to part from them or to face their 
disapproval...or shows any other indices of lack of emotional 
emancipation—to that extent she may find it more difficult than 
the man to conform to the cultural norm of primary loyalty to the 
family she establishes later. It is possible, of course, that the 
only effect of the greater sheltering is to create in women a 
generalized dependency which will then be transferred to the 
husband and which will enable her all the more readily to 
accept the role of wife in a family which still has many 
patriarchal features.— 


She finds evidence in a number of studies that college girls, in 
fact, are more infantile, dependent and tied to parents than boys, and 
do not mature, as boys do, by learning to stand alone. But she can find 
no evidence—in twenty psychiatric texts—that there are, 
accordingly, more in-law problems with the wife’s parents than the 
husband’s. Evidently, only with such evidence could a functionalist 
comfortably question the deliberate infantilization of American girls! 

Functionalism was an easy out for American sociologists. There 
can be no doubt that they were describing things “as they were,” but 
in so doing, they were relieved of the responsibility of building 
theory from facts, of probing for deeper truth. They were also 
relieved of the need to formulate questions and answers that would 


be inevitably controversial (at a time in academic circles, as in 
America as a whole, when controversy was not welcome). They 
assumed an endless present, and based their reasoning on denying the 
possibility of a future different from the past. Of course, their 
reasoning would hold up only as long as the future did not change. As 
C. P. Snow has pointed out, science and scientists are future-minded. 
Social scientists under the functional banner were so rigidly present- 
minded that they denied the future; their theories enforced the 
prejudices of the past, and actually prevented change. 

Sociologists themselves have recently come to the conclusion that 
functionalism was rather “embarrassing” because it really said 
nothing at all. As Kingsley Davis pointed out in his presidential 
address on “The Myth of Functional Analysis as a Special Method in 
Sociology and Anthropology” at the American Sociological 
Association in 1959: 

For more than thirty years now “functional analysis” has 
been debated among sociologists and anthropologists.... 
However strategic it may have been in the past, it has now 
become an impediment rather than a prop to scientific 
progress.... The claim that functionalism cannot handle social 
change because it posits an integrated static society is true by 
definition... .— 


Unfortunately, the female objects of functional analysis were 
profoundly affected by it. At a time of great change for women, at a 
time when education, science, and social science should have helped 
women bridge the change, functionalism transformed “what is” for 
women, or “what was,” to “what should be.” Those who perpetrated 
the feminine protest, and made more of being a woman than it can 
ever be, in the name of functionalism or for whatever complex of 
personal or intellectual reasons, closed the door of the future on 
women. In all the concern for adjustment, one truth was forgotten: 
women were being adjusted to a state inferior to their full 
capabilities. The functionalists did not wholly accept the Freudian 
argument that “anatomy is destiny,” but they accepted whole¬ 
heartedly an equally restrictive definition of woman: woman is what 
society says she is. And most of the functional anthropologists 


studied societies in which woman’s destiny was defined by anatomy. 

The most powerful influence on modern women, in terms both of 
functionalism and the feminine protest, was Margaret Mead. Her 
work on culture and personality—book after book, study after study 
—has had a profound effect on the women in my generation, the one 
before it, and the generation now growing up. She was, and still is, 
the symbol of the woman thinker in America. She has written millions 
of words in the thirty-odd years between Coming of Age in Samoa in 
1928 and her latest article on American women in the New York 
Times Magazine or Redbook. She is studied in college classrooms 
by girls taking courses in anthropology, sociology, psychology, 
education, and marriage and family life; in graduate schools by those 
who will one day teach girls and counsel women; in medical schools 
by future pediatricians and psychiatrists; even in theological schools 
by progressive young ministers. And she is read in the women’s 
magazines and the Sunday supplements, where she publishes as 
readily as in the learned journals, by girls and women of all ages. 
Margaret Mead is her own best popularizer—and her influence has 
been felt in almost every layer of American thought. 

But her influence, for women, has been a paradox. A mystique 
takes what it needs from any thinker of the time. The feminine 
mystique might have taken from Margaret Mead her vision of the 
infinite variety of sexual patterns and the enormous plasticity of 
human nature, a vision based on the differences of sex and 
temperament she found in three primitive societies: the Arapesh, 
where both men and women were “feminine” and “maternal” in 
personality and passively sexual, because both were trained to be 
cooperative, unaggressive, responsive to the needs and demands of 
others; the Mundugumor, where both husband and wife were violent, 
aggressive, positively sexed, “masculine” and the Tchambuli, where 
the woman was the dominant, impersonal managing partner, and the 
man the less responsible and emotionally dependent person. 

If those temperamental attitudes which we have traditionally 
regarded as feminine—such as passivity, responsiveness, and a 
willingness to cherish children—can so easily be set up as the 
masculine pattern in one tribe, and in another be outlawed for 
the majority of women as well as for the majority of men, we no 
longer have any basis for regarding such aspects of behavior as 
sex-linked.... The material suggests that we may say that many, 



if not all, of the personality traits which we have called 
masculine or feminine are as lightly linked to sex, as are the 
clothing, the manners, and the form of head-dress that a society 
at a given period assigns to either sex.— 


From such anthropological observations, she might have passed 
on to the popular culture a truly revolutionary vision of women 
finally free to realize their full capabilities in a society which 
replaced arbitrary sexual definitions with a recognition of genuine 
individual gifts as they occur in either sex. She had such a vision, 
more than once: 

Where writing is accepted as a profession that may be 
pursued by either sex with perfect suitability, individuals who 
have the ability to write need not be debarred from it by their 
sex, nor need they, if they do write, doubt their essential 
masculinity or femininity...and it is here that we can find a 
ground-plan for building a society that would substitute real 
differences for arbitrary ones. We must recognize that beneath 
the superficial classifications of sex and race the same 
potentialities exist, recurring generation after generation, only to 
perish because society has no place for them. 

Just as society now permits the practice of an art to members 
of either sex, so it might also permit the development of many 
contrasting temperamental gifts in each sex. It would abandon its 
various attempts to make boys fight and to make girls remain 
passive, or to make all children fight.... No child would be 
relentlessly shaped to one pattern of behavior, but instead there 
should be many patterns, in a world that had learned to allow to 
each individual the pattern which was most congenial to his 
gifts.— 


But this is not the vision the mystique took from Margaret Mead; 
nor is it the vision that she continues to offer. Increasingly, in her own 
pages, her interpretation blurs, is subtly transformed, into a 
glorification of women in the female role—as defined by their sexual 
biological function. At times she seems to lose her own 


anthropological awareness of the malleability of human personality, 
and to look at anthropological data from the Freudian point of view 
—sexual biology determines all, anatomy is destiny At times she 
seems to be arguing in functional terms, that while woman’s potential 
is as great and various as the unlimited human potential, it is better to 
preserve the sexual biological limitations established by a culture. At 
times she says both things in the same page, and even sounds a note of 
caution, warning of the dangers a woman faces in trying to realize a 
human potential which her society has defined as masculine. 

The difference between the two sexes is one of the important 
conditions upon which we have built the many varieties of 
human culture that give human beings dignity and stature.... 
Sometimes one quality has been assigned to one sex, sometimes 
to the other. Now it is boys who are thought of as infinitely 
vulnerable and in need of special cherishing care, now it is 
girls.... Some people think of women as too weak to work out 
of doors, others regard women as the appropriate bearers of 
heavy burdens “because their heads are stronger than men’s.”... 
Some religions, including our European traditional religions, 
have assigned women an inferior role in the religious hierarchy, 
others have built their whole symbolic relationship with the 
supernatural world upon male imitations of the natural functions 
of women.... Whether we deal with small matters or with large, 
with the frivolities of ornament and cosmetics or the sanctities 
of man’s place in the universe, we find this great variety of 
ways, often flatly contradictory one to the other, in which the 
roles of the two sexes have been patterned. 

But we always find the patterning. We know of no culture 
that has said, articulately, that there is no difference between 
men and women except in the way they contribute to the creation 
of the next generation; that otherwise in all respects they are 
simply human beings with varying gifts, no one of which can be 
exclusively assigned to either sex. 

Are we dealing with a must that we dare not flout because it 
is rooted so deep in our biological mammalian nature that to 
flout it means individual and social disease? Or with a must 
that, although not so deeply rooted, still is so very socially 
convenient and so well tried that it would be uneconomical to 
flout it—a must which says, for example, that it is easier to get 



children born and bred if we stylize the behavior of the sexes 
very differently, teaching them to walk and dress and act in 
contrasting ways and to specialize in different kinds of work?— 


We must also ask: What are the potentialities of sex 
differences?.. .If little boys have to meet and assimilate the early 
shock of knowing that they can never create a baby with the 
sureness and incontrovertibility that is a woman’s birthright, 
how does this make them more creatively ambitious, as well as 
more dependent upon achievement? If little girls have a rhythm 
of growth which means that their own sex appears to them as 
initially less sure than their brothers, and so gives them a little 
false flick towards compensatory achievement that almost 
always dies down before the certainty of maternity, this 
probably does mean a limitation on their sense of ambition? But 
what positive potentialities are there also?— 


In these passages from Male and Female, a book which became 
the cornerstone of the feminine mystique, Margaret Mead betrays her 
Freudian orientation, even though she cautiously prefaces each 
statement of apparent scientific fact with the small word “if.” But it is 
a very significant “if.” For when sexual differences become the basis 
of your approach to culture and personality, and when you assume 
that sexuality is the driving force of human personality (an 
assumption that you took from Freud), and when, moreover, as an 
anthropologist, you know that there are no true-for-every-culture 
sexual differences except those involved in the act of procreation, 
you will inevitably give that one biological difference, the difference 
in reproductive role, increasing importance in the determination of 
woman’s personality. 

Margaret Mead did not conceal the fact that, after 1931, Freudian 
rubrics, based on the zones of the body, were part of the equipment 
she took with her on anthropological field trips.— Thus she began to 
equate “those assertive, creative, productive aspects of life on which 
the superstructure of a civilization depends” with the penis, and to 
define feminine creativity in terms of the “passive receptivity” of the 


uterus. 


In discussing men and women, I shall be concerned with the 
primary differences between them, the difference in their 
reproductive roles. Out of the bodies fashioned for 
complementary roles in perpetuating the race, what differences 
in functioning, in capacities, in sensitivities, in vulnerabilities 
arise? How is what men can do related to the fact that their 
reproductive role is over in a single act, what women can do 
related to the fact that their reproductive role takes nine months 
of gestation, and until recently many months of breast feeding? 
What is the contribution of each sex, seen as itself, not as a mere 
imperfect version of the other? 

Living in the modern world, clothed and muffled, forced to 
convey our sense of our bodies in terms of remote symbols like 
walking sticks and umbrellas and handbags, it is easy to lose 
sight of the immediacy of the human body plan. But when one 
lives among primitive peoples, where women wear only a pair 
of little grass aprons, and may discard even these to insult each 
other or to bathe in a group, and men wear only a very lightly 
fastened G-string of beaten bark...and small babies wear 
nothing at all, the basic communications...that are conducted 
between bodies become very real. In our own society, we have 
now invented a therapeutic method that can laboriously deduce 
from the recollections of the neurotic, or the untrammelled 
phantasies of the psychotic, how the human body, its entrances 
and exits, originally shaped the growing individual’s view of 
the world.— 


As a matter of fact, the lens of “anatomy is destiny” seemed to be 
peculiarly right for viewing the cultures and personalities of Samoa, 
Manus, Arapesh, Mundugumor, Tchambuli, Iatmul and Bali; right as 
perhaps it never was right, in that formulation, for Vienna at the end 
of the nineteenth century or America in the twentieth. 

In the primitive civilizations of the South Sea islands, anatomy 
was still destiny when Margaret Mead first visited them. Freud’s 
theory that the primitive instincts of the body determined adult 
personality could find convincing demonstration. The complex goals 


of more advanced civilizations, in which instinct and environment are 
increasingly controlled and transformed by the human mind, did not 
then form the irreversible matrix of every human life. It must have 
been much easier to see biological differences between men and 
women as the basic force in life in those unclothed primitive peoples. 
But only if you go to such an island with the Freudian lens in your 
eye, accepting before you start what certain irreverent 
anthropologists call the toilet-paper theory of history, will you draw 
from observations in primitive civilizations of the role of the 
unclothed body, male or female, a lesson for modern women which 
assumes that the unclothed body can determine in the same way the 
course of human life and personality in a complex modern 
civilization. 

Anthropologists today are less inclined to see in primitive 
civilization a laboratory for the observation of our own civilization, 
a scale model with all the irrelevancies blotted out; civilization is 
just not that irrelevant. 

Because the human body is the same in primitive South Sea tribes 
and modern cities, an anthropologist, who starts with a psychological 
theory that reduces human personality and civilization to bodily 
analogies, can end up advising modern women to live through their 
bodies in the same way as the women of the South Seas. The trouble 
is that Margaret Mead could not re-create a South Sea world for us to 
live in: a world where having a baby is the pinnacle of human 
achievement. (If reproduction were the chief and only fact of human 
life, would all men today suffer from “uterus envy”?) 

In Bali, little girls between two and three walk much of the 
time with purposely thrust-out little bellies, and the older 
women tap them playfully as they pass. “Pregnant,” they tease. 
So the little girl learns that although the signs of her membership 
in her own sex are slight, her breasts mere tiny buttons no bigger 
than her brother’s, her genitals a simple inconspicuous fold, 
some day she will be pregnant, some day she will have a baby, 
and having a baby is, on the whole, one of the most exciting and 
conspicuous achievements that can be presented to the eyes of 
small children in these simple worlds, in some of which the 
largest buildings are only fifteen feet high, the largest boat some 
twenty feet long. Furthermore, the little girl learns that she will 
have a baby not because she is strong or energetic or initiating, 



not because she works and struggles and tries, and in the end 
succeeds, but simply because she is a girl and not a boy, and 
girls turn into women, and in the end—if they protect their 
femininity—have babies.— 


To an American woman in the twentieth century competing in a 
field which demands initiative and energy and work and in which 
men resent her success, to a woman with less will and ability to 
compete than Margaret Mead, how tempting is her vision of that 
South Sea world where a woman succeeds and is envied by man just 
by being a woman. 

In our Occidental view of life, woman, fashioned from man’s 
rib, can at the most strive unsuccessfully to imitate man’s 
superior powers and higher vocations. The basic theme of the 
initiatory cult, however, is that women, by virtue of their ability 
to make children, hold the secret of life. Man’s role is uncertain, 
undefined, and perhaps unnecessary. By a great effort man has 
hit upon a method of compensating himself for his basic 
inferiority. Equipped with various mysterious noise-making 
instruments, whose potency rests upon their actual forms being 
unknown to those who hear the sounds—that is, the women and 
children must never know that they are really bamboo flutes, or 
hollow logs...they can get the male children away from the 
women, brand them as incomplete and themselves turn boys into 
men. Women, it is true, make human beings, but only men can 
make men.— 


True, this primitive society was a “shaky structure, protected by 
endless taboos and precautions”—by women’s shame, fluttery fear, 
indulgence of male vanity—and it survived only as long as everyone 
kept the rules. “The missionary who shows the flutes to the women 
has broken the culture successfully.”— But Margaret Mead, who 
might have shown American men and women “the flutes” of their 
own arbitrary and shaky taboos, precautions, shames, fears, and 
indulgence of male vanity, did not use her knowledge in this way. Out 
of life the way it was—in Samoa, Bali, where all men envied women 


—she held up an ideal for American women that gave new reality to 
the shaky structure of sexual prejudice, the feminine mystique. 

The language is anthropological, the theory stated as fact is 
Freudian, but the yearning is for a return to the Garden of Eden: a 
garden where women need only forget the “divine discontent” born of 
education to return to a world in which male achievement becomes 
merely a poor substitute for child-bearing. 

The recurrent problem of civilization is to define the male 
role satisfactorily enough—whether it be to build gardens or 
raise cattle, kill game or kill enemies, build bridges or handle 
bank shares—so that the male may, in the course of his life, 
reach a solid sense of irreversible achievement of which his 
childhood knowledge of the satisfactions of child-bearing has 
given him a glimpse. In the case of women, it is only necessary 
that they be permitted by the given social arrangements to fulfill 
their biological role, to attain this sense of irreversible 
achievement. If women are to be restless and questing, even in 
the face of child-bearing, they must be made so through 
education.— 


What the feminine mystique took from Margaret Mead was not her 
vision of woman’s great untested human potential, but this 
glorification of the female sexual function that has indeed been tested, 
in every culture, but seldom, in civilized cultures, valued as highly as 
the unlimited potential of human creativity, so far mainly displayed 
by man. The vision the mystique took from Margaret Mead was of a 
world where women, by merely being women and bearing children, 
will earn the same respect accorded men for their creative 
achievements—as if possession of uterus and breasts bestows on 
women a glory that men can never know, even though they labor all 
their lives to create. In such a world, all the other things that a woman 
can do or be are merely pale substitutes for the conception of a child. 
Femininity becomes more than its definition by society; it becomes a 
value which society must protect from the destructive onrush of 
civilization like the vanishing buffalo. 

Margaret Mead’s eloquent pages made a great many American 
women envy the serene femininity of a bare-breasted Samoan, and try 


to make themselves into languorous savages, breasts unfettered by 
civilization’s brassieres, and brains undisturbed by pallid man-made 
knowledge of the goals of human progress. 

Woman’s biological career-line has a natural climax 
structure that can be overlaid, muted, muffled and publicly 
denied, but which remains as an essential element in both sexes’ 
view of themselves.... The young Balinese girl to whom one 
says, “Your name is I Tewa?” and who draws herself up and 
answers, “I am Men Bawa” (Mother of Bawa) is speaking 
absolutely. She is the mother of Bawa; Bawa may die tomorrow, 
but she remains the mother of Bawa; only if he had died 
unnamed would her neighbors have called her “Men Belasin,” 
“Mother Bereft.” Stage after stage in women’s life-histories thus 
stand, irrevocable, indisputable, accomplished. This gives a 
natural basis for the little girl’s emphasis on being rather than on 
doing. The little boy learns that he must act like a boy, do things, 
prove that he is a boy, and prove it over and over again, while 
the little girl learns that she is a girl, and all she has to do is to 
refrain from acting like a boy.— 


And so it goes, on and on, until one is inclined to say—so what? 
You are born, you grow, you are impregnated, you have a child, it 
grows; this is true of all cultures, recorded or unrecorded, the one we 
know from life and the recondite ones which only the far-traveled 
anthropologist knows. But is this all there is to life for a woman 
today? 

It is not to deny the importance of biology to question a definition 
of woman’s nature that is based so completely on her biological 
difference from man. Female biology, woman’s “biological career¬ 
line,” may be changeless—the same in Stone Age women twenty 
thousand years ago, and Samoan women on remote islands, and 
American women in the twentieth century—but the nature of the 
human relationship to biology has changed. Our increasing 
knowledge, the increasing potency of human intelligence, has given 
us an awareness of purposes and goals beyond the simple biological 
needs of hunger, thirst, and sex. Even these simple needs, in men or 
women today, are not the same as they were in the Stone Age or in 


the South Sea cultures, because they are now part of a more complex 
pattern of human life. 

As an anthropologist, of course, Margaret Mead knew this. And 
for all her words glorifying the female role, there are other words 
picturing the wonders of a world in which women would be able to 
realize their full capabilities. But this picture is almost invariably 
overlaid with the therapeutic caution, the manipulative superiority, 
typical of too many American social scientists. When this caution is 
combined with perhaps an over-evaluation of the power of social 
science not merely to interpret culture and personality, but to order 
our lives, her words acquire the aura of a righteous crusade—a 
crusade against change. She joins the other functional social 
scientists in their emphasis on adjusting to society as we find it, on 
living our lives within the framework of the conventional cultural 
definitions of the male and female roles. This attitude is explicit in 
the later pages of Male and Female. 

Giving each sex its due, a full recognition of its special 
vulnerabilities and needs for protection, means looking beyond 
the superficial resemblances during the period of later 
childhood when both boys and girls, each having laid many of 
the problems of sex adjustment aside, seem so eager to learn, 
and so able to learn the same things.... But every adjustment that 
minimizes a difference, a vulnerability, in one sex, a differential 
strength in the other, diminishes their possibility of 
complementing each other, and corresponds—symbolically—to 
sealing off the constructive receptivity of the female and the 
vigorous outgoing constructive activity of the male, muting them 
both in the end to a duller version of human life, in which each 
is denied the fullness of humanity that each might have had. - 

No human gift is strong enough to flower fully in a person 
who is threatened with loss of sex membership.... No matter 
with what good will we may embark on a program of actually 
rearing both men and women to make their full and special 
contributions in all the complex processes of civilization— 
medicine and law, education and religion, the arts and sciences 
—the task will be very difficult.... 

It is of very doubtful value to enlist the gifts of women if 
bringing women into fields that have been defined as male 


frightens the men, unsexes the women, muffles and distorts the 
contribution the women could make, either because their 
presence excludes men from the occupation or because it 
changes the quality of the men who enter it.... It is folly to 
ignore the signs which warn us that the present terms in which 
women are lured by their own curiosities and drives developed 
under the same educational system as boys...are bad for both 
men and women.— 


The role of Margaret Mead as the professional spokesman of 
femininity would have been less important if American women had 
taken the example of her own life, instead of listening to what she 
said in her books. Margaret Mead has lived a life of open challenge, 
and lived it proudly, if sometimes self-consciously, as a woman. She 
has moved on the frontiers of thought and added to the superstructure 
of our knowledge. She has demonstrated feminine capabilities that go 
far beyond childbirth; she made her way in what was still very much 
a “man’s world” without denying that she was a woman; in fact, she 
proclaimed in her work a unique woman’s knowledge with which no 
male anthropologist could compete. After so many centuries of 
unquestioned masculine authority, how natural for someone to 
proclaim a feminine authority. But the great human visions of 
stopping wars, curing sickness, teaching races to live together, 
building new and beautiful structures for people to live in, are more 
than “other ways of having children.” 

It is not easy to combat age-old prejudices. As a social scientist, 
and as a woman, she struck certain blows against the prejudicial 
image of woman that may long outlast her own life. In her insistence 
that women are human beings—unique human beings, not men with 
something missing—she went a step beyond Freud. And yet, because 
her observations were based on Freud’s bodily analogies, she cut 
down her own vision of women by glorifying the mysterious miracle 
of femininity, which a woman realizes simply by being female, letting 
the breasts grow and the menstrual blood flow and the baby suck 
from the swollen breast. In her warning that women who seek 
fulfillment beyond their biological role are in danger of becoming 
desexed witches, she spelled out again an unnecessary choice. She 
persuaded younger women to give up part of their dearly won 
humanity rather than lose their femininity. In the end she did the very 


thing that she warned against, re-creating in her work the vicious 
circle that she broke in her own life: 

We may go up the scale from simple physical differences 
through complementary distinctions that overstress the role of 
sex difference and extend it inappropriately to other aspects of 
life, to stereotypes of such complex activities as those involved 
in the formal use of the intellect, in the arts, in government, and 
in religion. 

In all these complex achievements of civilization, those 
activities which are mankind’s glory, and upon which depends 
our hope of survival in this world that we have built, there has 
been this tendency to make artificial definitions that limit an 
activity to one sex, and by denying the actual potentialities of 
human beings limit not only both men and women, but also 
equally the development of the activity itself.... 

Here is a vicious circle to which it is not possible to assign 
either a beginning or an end, in which men’s overestimation of 
women’s roles, or women’s overestimation of men’s roles leads 
one sex or the other to arrogate, to neglect, or even to relinquish 
part of our so dearly won humanity. Those who would break the 
circle are themselves a product of it, express some of its defects 
in their every gesture, may be only strong enough to challenge it, 
not able actually to break it. Yet once identified, once analyzed, 
it should be possible to create a climate of opinion in which 
others, a little less the product of the dark past because they 
have been reared with a light in their hand that can shine 
backwards as well as forwards, may in turn take the next step.— 


Perhaps the feminine protest was a necessary step after the 
masculine protest made by some of the feminists. Margaret Mead was 
one of the first women to emerge into prominence in American life 
after rights for women were won. Her mother was a social scientist, 
her grandmother a teacher; she had private images of women who 
were fully human, she had education equal to any man’s. And she was 
able to say with conviction: it’s good to be a woman, you don’t need 
to copy man, you can respect yourself as a woman. She made a 
resounding feminine protest, in her life and in her work. And it was a 


step forward when she influenced emancipated modern women to 
choose, with free intelligence, to have babies, bear them with a proud 
awareness that denied pain, nurse them at the breast and devote mind 
and body to their care. It was a step forward in the passionate 
journey—and one made possible by it—for educated women to say 
“yes” to motherhood as a conscious human purpose and not a burden 
imposed by the flesh. For, of course, the natural childbirth¬ 
breastfeeding movement Margaret Mead helped inspire was not at all 
a return to primitive earth-mother maternity. It appealed to the 
independent, educated, spirited American woman—and to her 
counterparts in western Europe and Russia—because it enabled her 
to experience childbirth not as a mindless female animal, an object 
manipulated by the obstetrician, but as a whole person, able to 
control her own body with her aware mind. Perhaps less important 
than birth control and the other rights which made woman more equal 
to man, the work of Margaret Mead helped humanize sex. It took a 
scientific super-saleswoman to re-create in modern American life 
even a semblance of the conditions under which primitive tribesmen 
jealously imitated maternity and bled themselves. (The modern 
husband goes through the breathing exercises with his wife as she 
prepares for natural childbirth.) But did she oversell women? 

It was, perhaps, not her fault that she was taken so literally that 
procreation became a cult, a career, to the exclusion of every other 
kind of creative endeavor, until women kept on having babies 
because they knew no other way to create. She was often quoted out 
of context by the lesser functionalists and the women’s magazines. 
Those who found in her work confirmation of their own unadmitted 
prejudices and fears ignored not only the complexity of her total 
work, but the example of her complex life. With all the difficulties 
she must have encountered, pioneering as a woman in the realm of 
abstract thought that was the domain of man (a one-sentence review 
o f Sex and Temperament indicates the resentment she often met: 
“Margaret, have you found a culture yet where the men had the 
babies?”), she has never retreated from the hard road to self- 
realization so few women have traveled since. She told women often 
enough to stay on that road. If they only heard her other words of 
warning, and conformed to her glorification of femininity, perhaps it 
was because they were not as sure of themselves and their human 
abilities as she was. 

Margaret Mead and the lesser functionalists knew the pains, the 



risks, of breaking through age-old social strictures.— This awareness 
was their justification for qualifying their statements of women’s 
potentiality with the advice that women not compete with men, but 
seek respect for their uniqueness as women. It was hardly 
revolutionary advice; it did not upset the traditional image of woman 
any more than Freudian thought upset it. Perhaps it was their intention 
to subvert the old image; but instead they gave the new mystique its 
scientific authority. 

Ironically, Margaret Mead, in the 1960’s, began to voice alarm at 
the “return of the cavewoman”—the retreat of American women to 
narrow domesticity, while the world trembled on the brink of 
technological holocaust. In an excerpt from a book titled American 
Women: The Changing Image , which appeared in the Saturday 
Evening Post (March 3, 1962), she asked: 

Why have we returned, despite our advances in technology, 
to the Stone Age picture?...Woman has gone back, each to her 
separate cave, waiting anxiously for her mate and children to 
return, guarding her mate jealously against other women, almost 
totally unaware of any life outside her door.... In this retreat 
intofecundity, it is not the individual woman who is to blame. It 
is the climate of opinion that has developed in this country... 


Apparently Margaret Mead does not acknowledge, or perhaps 
recognize her own role as a major architect of that “climate of 
opinion.” Apparently she has overlooked much of her own work, 
which helped persuade several generations of able modern American 
women “in desperate cavewoman style, to devote their whole lives 
to narrow domesticity—first in schoolgirl dreaming and a search for 
roles which make them appealingly ignorant, then as mothers and then 
as grandmothers...restricting their activities to the preservation of 
their own private, and often boring existences.” 

Even though it would seem that Margaret Mead is now trying to 
get women out of the home, she still ascribes a sexual specialness to 
everything a woman does. Trying to seduce them into the modern 
world of science as “the teacher-mothers of infant scientists,” she is 
still translating the new possibilities open to women and the new 
problems facing them as members of the human race into sexual 


terms. But now “those roles which have historically belonged to 
women” are stretched to include political responsibility for nuclear 
disarmament—“to cherish not just their own but the children of the 
enemy” Since, beginning with the same premise and examining the 
same body of anthropological evidence, she now arrives at a slightly 
different sexual role for women, one might seriously question the 
basis upon which she decides the roles a woman should play—and 
finds it so easy to change the rules of the game from one decade to the 
next. 

Other social scientists have arrived at the astonishing conclusion 
that “being a woman was no more and no less than being human.”— 
But a cultural lag is built into the feminine mystique. By the time a 
few social scientists were discovering the flaws in “woman’s role,” 
American educators had seized upon it as a magic sesame. Instead of 
educating women for the greater maturity required to participate in 
modern society—with all the problems, conflicts, and hard work 
involved, for educators as well as women—they began educating 
them to “play the role of woman.” 


The Sex-Directed Educators 


It must have been going on for ten or fifteen years before the 
educators even suspected it—the old-fashioned educators, that is. 
The new sex-directed educators were surprised that anyone should 
be surprised, shocked that anyone should be shocked. 

The shock, the mystery, to the naive who had great hopes for the 
higher education of women was that more American women than ever 
before were going to college—but fewer of them were going on from 
college to become physicists, philosophers, poets, doctors, lawyers, 
stateswomen, social pioneers, even college professors. Fewer 
women in recent college graduating classes have gone on to 
distinguish themselves in a career or profession than those in the 
classes graduated before World War II, the Great Divide. Fewer and 
fewer college women were preparing for any career or profession 
requiring more than the most casual commitment. Two out of three 
girls who entered college were dropping out before they even 
finished. In the 1950’s, those who stayed, even the most able, showed 
no signs of wanting to be anything more than suburban housewives 
and mothers. In fact, to professors at Vassar and Smith and Barnard, 
resorting to desperate means to arouse students’ interest in anything 
college could teach them, the girls seemed suddenly incapable of any 
ambition, any vision, any passion, except the pursuit of a wedding 
ring. In this pursuit they seemed almost desperate, as early as 
freshman year. 

Out of loyalty to that more and more futile illusion—the 
importance of higher education for women—the purist professors 
kept quiet at first. But the disuse of, the resistance to, higher 
education by American women finally began to show in the 
statistics:- in the departure of the male presidents, scholars, and 
educators from women’s colleges; in the disillusionment, the 
mystified frustration or cool cynicism of the ones who stayed; and in 
the skepticism, finally, in colleges and universities, about the value of 
a professorial investment in any girl or woman, no matter how 


apparently able and ambitious. Some women’s colleges went out of 
business; some professors, at coeducational universities, said one out 
of three college places should no longer be wasted on women; the 
president of Sarah Lawrence, a women’s college with high 
intellectual values, spoke of opening the place to men; the president 
of Vassar predicted the end of all the great American women’s 
colleges which pioneered higher education for women. 

When I read the first cautious hints of what was happening, in the 
preliminary report of the psychological-sociological-anthropological 
Mellon Foundation study of Vassar girls in 1956,1 thought, “My, how 
Vassar must have deteriorated.” 

Strong commitment to an activity or career other than that of 
housewife is rare. Many students, perhaps a third, are interested 
in graduate schooling and in careers, for example, teaching. 
Few, however, plan to continue with a career if it should 
conflict with family needs.... As compared to previous periods, 
however, e.g., the “feminist era,” few students are interested in 
the pursuit of demanding careers, such as law or medicine, 
regardless of personal or social pressures. Similarly, one finds 
few instances of people like Edna St. Vincent Millay, 
individuals completely committed to their art by the time of 
adolescence and resistant to any attempts to tamper with it.. .- 


A later report elaborated: 

Vassar students...are further convinced that the wrongs of 
society will gradually right themselves with little or no direct 
intervention on the part of women college students.... Vassar 
girls, by and large, do not expect to achieve fame, make an 
enduring contribution to society, pioneer any frontiers, or 
otherwise create ripples in the placid order of things.... Not 
only is spinsterhood viewed as a personal tragedy but offspring 
are considered essential to the full life and the Vassar student 
believes that she would willingly adopt children, if it were 
necessary, to create a family. In short, her future identity is 
largely encompassed by the projected role of wife-mother.... In 
describing the qualities to be found in an ideal husband, the 


majority of Vassar girls are quite explicit in their preference for 
the man who will assume the most important role, that is, handle 
his own career and make the majority of decisions affecting 
matters outside the home.... That the female should attempt, in 
their thinking, to usurp the prerogatives of the male is a 
distasteful notion which would seriously disrupt their own 
projected role of helpmate and faithful complement to the man of 
the house. - 


I saw the change, a very real one, when I went back to my own 
college in 1959, to live for a week with the students in a campus 
house at Smith, and then went on to interview girls from colleges and 
universities all over the United States. 

A beloved psychology professor, on the eve of his retirement, 
complained: 

They’re bright enough. They have to be, to get here at all 
now. But they just won’t let themselves get interested. They 
seem to feel it will get in their way when they marry the young 
executive and raise all those children in the suburbs. I couldn’t 
schedule the final seminar for my senior honor students. Too 
many kitchen showers interfered. None of them considered the 
seminar sufficiently important to postpone their kitchen showers. 


He’s exaggerating, I thought. 

I picked up a copy of the college newspaper I had once edited. 
The current student editor described a government class in which 
fifteen of the twenty girls were knitting “with the stony-faced 
concentration of Madame Defarge. The instructor, more in challenge 
than in seriousness, announced that Western civilization is coming to 
an end. The students turned to their notebooks and wrote ‘Western 
civ—coming to an end,’ all without dropping a stitch.” 

Why do they need such baiting, I wondered, remembering how 
we used to stand around after class, arguing about what the professor 
had said—Economic Theory, Political Philosophy, the History of 
Western Civilization, Sociology 21, Science and the Imagination, 
even Chaucer. “What courses are people excited about now?” I asked 


a blonde senior in cap and gown. Nuclear physics, maybe? Modern 
art? The civilizations of Africa? Looking at me as if I were some 
prehistoric dinosaur, she said: 

Girls don’t get excited about things like that anymore. We 
don’t want careers. Our parents expect us to go to college. 
Everybody goes. You’re a social outcast at home if you don’t. 
But a girl who got serious about anything she studied—like 
wanting to go on and do research—would be peculiar, 
unfeminine. I guess everybody wants to graduate with a diamond 
ring on her finger. That’s the important thing. 


I discovered an unwritten rule barring “shop talk” about courses, 
intellectual talk, in some college houses. On the campus, the girls 
looked as if they were in such a hurry, rushing, rushing. Nobody, 
except a few faculty members, sat around talking in the coffee dives 
or the corner drugstore. We used to sit for hours arguing what-is- 
truth, art-for-art’s-sake, religion, sex, war and peace, Freud and 
Marx, and all the things that were wrong with the world. A cool 
junior told me: 

We never waste time like that. We don’t have bull sessions 
about abstract things. Mostly, we talk about our dates. Anyhow, 
I spend three days a week off campus. There’s a boy I’m 
interested in. I want to be with him. 


A dark-eyed senior in a raincoat admitted, as a kind of secret 
addiction, that she liked to wander around the stacks in the library 
and “pickup books that interest me.” 

You learn freshman year to turn up your nose at the library. 
Lately though—well, it hits you, that you won’t be at college 
next year. Suddenly you wish you’d read more, talked more, 
taken hard courses you skipped. So you’d know what you’re 
interested in. But I guess those things don’t matter when you’re 
married. You’re interested in your home and teaching your 
children how to swim and skate, and at night you talk to your 



husband. I think we’ll be happier than college women used to 
be. 


These girls behaved as if college were an interval to be gotten 
through impatiently, efficiently, bored but businesslike, so “real” life 
could begin. And real life was when you married and lived in a 
suburban house with your husband and children. Was it quite natural, 
this boredom, this businesslike haste? Was it real, this preoccupation 
with marriage? The girls who glibly disclaimed any serious interest 
in their education with talk of “when I’m married” often were not 
seriously interested in any particular man, I discovered. The ones 
who were rushing to get their college work done, to spend three days 
a week off campus, sometimes had no real date they wanted to keep. 

In my time, popular girls who spent many weekends at Yale were 
often just as serious about their work as the “brains.” Even if you 
were temporarily, or quite seriously, in love, during the week at 
college you lived the life of the mind—and found it absorbing, 
demanding, sometimes exciting, always real. Could these girls who 
now must work so much harder, have so much more ability to get into 
such a college against the growing competition, really be so bored 
with the life of the mind? 

Gradually, I sensed the tension, the almost sullen protest, the 
deliberate effort—or effort deliberately avoided—behind their cool 
facades. Their boredom was not quite what it seemed. It was a 
defense, a refusal to become involved. As a woman who 
unconsciously thinks sex a sin is not there, is somewhere else, as she 
goes through the motions of sex, so these girls are somewhere else. 
They go through the motions, but they defend themselves against the 
impersonal passions of mind and spirit that college might instill in 
them—the dangerous nonsexual passions of the intellect. 

A pretty sophomore explained to me: 

The idea is to be casual, very sophisticated. Don’t be too 
enthusiastic about your work or anything. People who take 
things too seriously are more or less pitied or laughed at. Like 
wanting to sing, being so intent about it you make other people 
uncomfortable. An oddball. 



Another girl elaborated: 


They might feel sorry for you. I think you can be serious 
about your work and not be looked down upon as a total 
intellectual, if you stop now and then and think isn’t this too 
hysterical. Because you do it with tongue in cheek, it’s O.K. 


A girl with a fraternity pin on her pink sweater said: 

Maybe we should take it more seriously. But nobody wants 
to graduate and get into something where they can’t use it. If 
your husband is going to be an organization man, you can’t be 
too educated. The wife is awfully important for the husband’s 
career. You can’t be too interested in art, or something like that. 


A girl who had dropped out of honors in history told me: 

I loved it. I got so excited about my work I would sometimes 
go into the library at eight in the morning and not come out till 
ten at night. I even thought I might want to go on to graduate 
school or law school and really use my mind. Suddenly, I was 
afraid of what would happen. I wanted to lead a rich full life. I 
want to marry, have children, have a nice house. Suddenly I felt, 
what am I beating my brains out for. So this year I’m trying to 
lead a well-rounded life. I take courses, but I don’t read eight 
books and still feel like reading the ninth. I stop and go to the 
movies. The other way was harder, and more exciting. I don’t 
know why I stopped. Maybe I just lost courage. 


The phenomenon does not seem confined to any particular 
college; one finds it among the girls in any college, or department of 
a college, which still exposes students to the life of the mind. A 
junior from a Southern university said: 

Ever since I was a little girl, science has had a fascination 
for me. I was going to major in bacteriology and go into cancer 



research. Now I’ve switched to home economics. I realized I 
don’t want to go into something that deep. If I went on, I’d have 
been one of those dedicated people. I got so caught up in the 
first two years, I never got out of the laboratory. I loved it, but I 
was missing so many things. If the girls were off swimming in 
the afternoon, I’d be working on my smears and slides. There 
aren’t any girls in bacteriology here, sixty boys and me in the 
lab. I couldn’t get on with the girls anymore who don’t 
understand science. I’m not so intensely interested in home 
economics as I was in bacteriology, but I realize it was better 
for me to change, and get out with people. I realized I shouldn’t 
be that serious. I’ll go home and work in a department store until 
I get married. 


The mystery to me is not that these girls defend themselves against 
an involvement with the life of the mind, but that educators should be 
mystified by their defense, or blame it on the “student culture,” as 
certain educators do. The one lesson a girl could hardly avoid 
learning, if she went to college between 1945 and 1960, was not to 
get interested, seriously interested, in anything besides getting 
married and having children, if she wanted to be normal, happy, 
adjusted, feminine, have a successful husband, successful children, 
and a normal, feminine, adjusted, successful sex life. She might have 
learned some of this lesson at home, and some of it from the other 
girls in college, but she also learned it, incontrovertibly, from those 
entrusted with developing her critical, creative intelligence: her 
college professors. 

A subtle and almost unnoticed change had taken place in the 
academic culture for American women in the last fifteen years: the 
new sex-direction of their educators. Under the influence of the 
feminine mystique, some college presidents and professors charged 
with the education of women had become more concerned with their 
students’ future capacity for sexual orgasm than with their future use 
of trained intelligence. In fact, some leading educators of women 
began to concern themselves, conscientiously, with protecting 
students from the temptation to use their critical, creative intelligence 
—by the ingenious method of educating it not to be critical or 
creative. Thus higher education added its weight to the process by 
which American women during this period were shaped increasingly 



to their biological function, decreasingly to the fulfillment of their 
individual abilities. Girls who went to college could hardly escape 
those bits and pieces of Freud and Margaret Mead, or avoid a course 
in “Marriage and Family Life” with its functional indoctrination on 
“how to play the role of woman.” 

The new sex-direction of women’s education was not, however, 
confined to any specific course or academic department. It was 
implicit in all the social sciences; but more than that, it became a part 
of education itself, not only because the English professor, or the 
guidance counselor, or the college president read Freud and Mead, 
but because education was the prime target of the new mystique—the 
education of American girls with, or like, boys. If the Freudians and 
the functionalists were right, educators were guilty of defeminizing 
American women, of dooming them to frustration as housewives and 
mothers, or to celibate careers, to life without orgasm. It was a 
damning indictment; many college presidents and educational 
theorists confessed their guilt without a murmur and fell into the sex- 
directed line. There were a few cries of outrage, of course, from the 
old-fashioned educators who still believed the mind was more 
important than the marriage bed, but they were often near retirement 
and soon to be replaced by younger, more thoroughly sex- 
indoctrinated teachers, or they were so wrapped up in their special 
subjects that they had little say in over-all school policies. 

The general educational climate was ripe for the new sex- 
directed line, with its emphasis on adjustment. The old aim of 
education, the development of intelligence through vigorous mastery 
of the major intellectual disciplines, was already in disfavor among 
the child-centered educators. Teachers College at Columbia was the 
natural breeding ground for educational functionalism. As psychology 
and anthropology and sociology permeated the total scholarly 
atmosphere, education for femininity also spread from Mills, 
Stephens and the finishing schools (where its basis was more 
traditional than theoretical) to the proudest bastions of the women’s 
Ivy League, the colleges which pioneered higher education for 
women in America, and were noted for their uncompromising 
intellectual standards. 

Instead of opening new horizons and wider worlds to able 
women, the sex-directed educator moved in to teach them adjustment 
within the world of home and children. Instead of teaching truths to 
counter the popular prejudices of the past, or critical ways of thinking 



against which prejudice cannot survive, the sex-directed educator 
handed girls a sophisticated soup of uncritical prescriptions and 
presentiments, far more binding on the mind and prejudicial to the 
future than all the traditional do’s and don’ts. Most of it was done 
consciously and for the best of helpful reasons by educators who 
really believed the mystique as the social scientists handed it to them. 
If a male professor or college president did not find this mystique a 
positive comfort, a confirmation of his own prejudices, he still had 
no reason not to believe it. 

The few college presidents and professors who were women 
either fell into line or had their authority—as teachers and as women 
—questioned. If they were spinsters, if they had not had babies, they 
were forbidden by the mystique to speak as women. (Modern 
Woman: The Lost Sex would forbid them even to teach.) The 
brilliant scholar, who did not marry but inspired many generations of 
college women to the pursuit of truth, was sullied as an educator of 
women. She was not named president of the women’s college whose 
intellectual tradition she carried to its highest point; the girls’ 
education was put in the hands of a handsome, husbandly man, more 
suitable to indoctrinating girls for their proper feminine role. The 
scholar often left the women’s college to head a department in a great 
university, where the potential Ph.D.’s were safely men, for whom 
the lure of scholarship, the pursuit of truth, was not deemed a 
deterrent to sexual fulfillment. 

In terms of the new mystique, the woman scholar was suspect, 
simply by virtue of being one. She was not just working to support 
her home; she must have been guilty of an unfeminine commitment, to 
have kept working in her field all those hard, grinding, ill-paid years 
to the Ph.D. In self-defense she sometimes adopted frilly blouses or 
another innocuous version of the feminine protest. (At psychoanalytic 
conventions, an observer once noticed, the lady analysts camouflage 
themselves with pretty, flowery, smartly feminine hats that would 
make the casual suburban housewife look positively masculine.) 
M.D. or Ph.D., those hats and frilly blouses say, let nobody question 
our femininity. But the fact is, their femininity was questioned. One 
famous women’s college adopted in defense the slogan, “We are not 
educating women to be scholars; we are educating them to be wives 
and mothers.” (The girls themselves finally got so tired of repeating 
this slogan in full that they abbreviated it to “WAM.”) 



In building the sex-directed curriculum, not everyone went as far as 
Lynn White, former president of Mills College, but if you started with 
the premise that women should no longer be educated like men, but 
for their role as women, you almost had to end with his curriculum— 
which amounted to replacing college chemistry with a course in 
advanced cooking. 

The sex-directed educator begins by accepting education’s 
responsibility for the frustration, general and sexual, of American 
women. 


On my desk lies a letter from a young mother, a few years out 
of college: 


“I have come to realize that I was educated to be a successful 
man and must now learn by myself to be a successful woman.” 
The basic irrelevance of much of what passes as women’s 
education in America could not be more compactly phrased.... 
The failure of our educational system to take into account these 
simple and basic differences between the life patterns of 
average men and women is at least in part responsible for the 
deep discontent and restlessness which affects millions of 
women.... 

It would seem that if women are to restore their self-respect 
they must reverse the tactics of the older feminism which 
indignantly denied inherent differences in the intellectual and 
emotional tendencies of men and women. Only by recognizing 
and insisting upon the importance of such differences can 
women save themselves, in their own eyes, of conviction as 
inferiors.- 


The sex-directed educator equates as masculine our “vastly 
overrated cultural creativity,” “our uncritical acceptance of 
‘progress’ as good in itself,” “egotistic individualism,” “innovation,” 
“abstract construction,” “quantitative thinking”—of which, of course, 
the dread symbol is either communism or the atom bomb. Against 
these, equated as feminine, are “the sense of persons, of the 



immediate, of intangible qualitative relationships, an aversion for 
statistics and quantities,” “the intuitive,” “the emotional,” and all the 
forces that “cherish” and “conserve” what is “good, true, beautiful, 
useful, and holy.” 

A feminized higher education might include sociology, 
anthropology, psychology. (“These are studies little concerned with 
the laurel-crowned genius of the strong man,” praises the educational 
protector of femininity. “They are devoted to exploring the quiet and 
unspectacular forces of society and of the mind.... They embrace the 
feminine preoccupation with conserving and cherishing.”) It would 
hardly include either pure science (since abstract theory and 
quantitative thinking are unfeminine) or fine art, which is masculine, 
“flamboyant and abstract.” The applied or minor arts, however, are 
feminine: ceramics, textiles, work shaped more by the hand than the 
brain. “Women love beauty as much as men do but they want a beauty 
connected with the processes of living...the hand is as remarkable 
and as worthy of respect as the brain.” 

The sex-directed educator cites approvingly Cardinal Tisserant’s 
saying, “Women should be educated so that they can argue with their 
husbands.” Let us stop altogether professional training for women, he 
insists: all women must be educated to be housewives. Even home 
economics and domestic science, as they are now taught at college, 
are masculine because “they have been pitched at the level of 
professional training. 

Here is a truly feminine education: 

One may prophesy with confidence that as women begin to 
make their distinctive wishes felt in curricular terms, not merely 
will every women’s college and coeducational institution offer 
a firm nuclear course in the Family, but from it will radiate 
curricular series dealing with food and nutrition, textiles and 
clothing, health and nursing, house planning and interior 
decoration, garden design and applied botany, and child- 
development. ... Would it be impossible to present a beginning 
course in foods as exciting and as difficult to work up after 
college, as a course in post-Kantian philosophy would be?... 
Let’s abandon talk of proteins, carbohydrates and the like, save 
inadvertently, as for example, when we point out that a British 
hyper-boiled Brussel sprout is not merely inferior in flavor and 


texture, but in vitamine content. Why not study the theory and 
preparation of a Basque paella, of a well-marinated shish 
kebob, lamb kidneys sauteed in sherry, an authoritative curry, 
the use of herbs, even such simple sophistications as serving 
cold artichokes with fresh milk.- 


The sex-directed educator is hardly impressed by the argument 
that a college curriculum should not be contaminated or diluted with 
subjects like cooking or manual training, which can be taught 
successfully at the high-school level. Teach them to the girls in high 
school, and “with greater intensity and imagination” again in college. 
Boys, also, should get some “family-minded” education, but not in 
their valuable college time; early high-school manual training is 
enough to “enable them, in future years to work happily at a bench in 
the garage or in the garden, surrounded by an admiring circle of 
children.. .or at the barbecue.”- 

This kind of education, in the name of life-adjustment, became a fact 
on many campuses, high-school as well as college. It was not 
dreamed up to turn back the growth of women, but it surely helped. 
When American educators finally began to investigate the waste of 
our national resources of creative intelligence, they found that the lost 
Einsteins, Schweitzers, Roosevelts, Edisons, Fords, Fermis, Frosts 
were feminine. Of the brightest forty per cent of U.S. high-school 
graduates, only half went on to college: of the half who stopped, two 
out of three were girls.- When Dr. James B. Conant went across the 
nation to find out what was wrong with the American high school, he 
discovered too many students were taking easy how-to courses which 
didn’t really stretch their minds. Again, most of those who should 
have been studying physics, advanced algebra, analytic geometry, 
four years of language—and were not—were girls. They had the 
intelligence, the special gift which was not sex-directed, but they also 
had the sex-directed attitude that such studies were “unfeminine.” 

Sometimes a girl wanted to take a hard subject, but was advised 
by a guidance counselor or teacher that it was a waste of time—as, 
for instance, the girl in a good Eastern high school who wanted to be 
an architect. Her counselor strongly advised her against applying for 
admission anywhere in architecture, on the grounds that women are 


rare in that profession, and she would never get in anyhow. She 
stubbornly applied to two universities who give degrees in 
architecture; both, to her amazement, accepted her. Then her 
counselor told her that even though she had been accepted, there was 
really no future for women in architecture; she would spend her life 
in a drafting room. She was advised to go to a junior college where 
the work would be much easier than in architecture and where she 
would learn all she needed to know when she married.- 

The influence of sex-directed education was perhaps even more 
insidious on the high-school level than it was in the colleges, for 
many girls who were subjected to it never got to college. I picked up 
a lesson plan for one of these life-adjustment courses now taught in 
junior high in the suburban county where I live. Entitled “The Slick 
Chick,” it gives functional “do’s and don’ts for dating” to girls of 
eleven, twelve, thirteen—a kind of early or forced recognition of 
their sexual function. Though many have nothing yet with which to fill 
a brassiere, they are told archly not to wear a sweater without one, 
and to be sure to wear slips so boys can’t see through their skirts. It 
is hardly surprising that by the sophomore year, many bright girls in 
this high school are more than conscious of their sexual function, 
bored with all the subjects in school, and have no ambition other than 
to marry and have babies. One cannot help wondering (especially 
when some of these girls get pregnant as high-school sophomores and 
marry at fifteen or sixteen) if they have not been educated for their 
sexual function too soon, while their other abilities go unrecognized. 

This stunting of able girls from nonsexual growth is nationwide. 
Of the top ten per cent of graduates of Indiana high schools in 1955, 
only fifteen per cent of the boys did not continue their education: 
thirty-six per cent of the girls did not go on.— In the very years in 
which higher education has become a necessity for almost everyone 
who wants a real function in our exploding society, the proportion of 
women among college students has declined, year by year. In the 
fifties, women also dropped out of college at a faster rate than the 
men: only thirty-seven per cent of the women graduated, in contrast to 
fifty-five per cent of the men.— By the sixties, an equal proportion of 
boys was dropping out of college.— But, in this era of keen 
competition for college seats, the one girl who enters college for 
every two boys is “more highly selected,” and less likely to be 
dropped from college for academic failure. Women drop out, as 


David Riesman says, either to marry or because they fear too much 
education is a “marriage bar.” The average age of first marriage, in 
the last fifteen years, has dropped to the youngest in the history of this 
country, the youngest in any of the countries of the Western world, 
almost as young as it used to be in the so-called underdeveloped 
countries. In the new nations of Asia and Africa, with the advent of 
science and education, the marriage age of women is now rising. 
Today, thanks in part to the functional sex-direction of women’s 
education, the annual rate of population increase in the United States 
is among the highest in the world—nearly three times that of the 
Western European nations, nearly double Japan’s, and close on the 
heels of Africa and India.— 

The sex-directed educators have played a dual role in this trend: 
by actively educating girls to their sexual function (which perhaps 
they would fulfill without such education, in a way less likely to 
prevent their growth in other directions); and by abdicating their 
responsibility for the education of women, in the strict intellectual 
sense. With or without education, women are likely to fulfill their 
biological role, and experience sexual love and motherhood. But 
without education, women or men are not likely to develop deep 
interests that go beyond biology. 

Education should, and can, make a person “broad in outlook, and 
open to new experience, independent and disciplined in his thinking, 
deeply committed to some productive activity, possessed of 
convictions based on understanding of the world and on his own 
integration of personality.”— The main barrier to such growth in girls 
is their own rigid preconception of woman’s role, which sex- 
directed educators reinforce, either explicitly or by not facing their 
own ability, and responsibility, to break through it. 

Such a sex-directed impasse is revealed in the massive depths of 
that thousand-page study, The American College , when “motivational 
factors in college entrance” are analyzed from research among 1,045 
boys and 1,925 girls. The study recognizes that it is the need to be 
independent, and find identity in society not primarily through the sex 
role but through work, which makes boys grow in college. The girl’s 
evasion of growth in college is explained by the fact that for a girl, 
identity is exclusively sexual; for the girl, college itself is seen even 
by these scholars not as the key to larger identity but as a disguised 
“outlet for sexual impulses.” 


The identity issue for the boy is primarily an occupational- 
vocational question, while self-definition for the girl depends 
more directly on marriage. A number of differences follow from 
this distinction. The girl’s identity centers more exclusively on 
her sex-role—whose wife will I be, what kind of a family will 
we have; while the boy’s self-definition forms about two nuclei; 
he will be a husband and father (his sex-role identity) but he 
will also and centrally be a worker. A related difference 
follows and has particular importance at adolescence: the 
occupational identity is by and large an issue of personal choice 
that can begin early and to which all of the resources of rational 
and thoughtful planning can be directed. The boy can begin to 
think and plan for this aspect of identity early.... The sexual 
identity, so critical for feminine development, permits no such 
conscious or orderly effort. It is a mysterious and romantic 
issue, freighted with fiction, mystique, illusion. A girl may learn 
certain surface skills and activities of the feminine role, but she 
will be thought ungraceful and unfeminine if her efforts toward 
femininity are too clearly conscious. The real core of feminine 
settlement—living in intimacy with a beloved man—is a future 
prospect, for which there is no rehearsal. We find that boys and 
girls in adolescence have different approaches to the future; 
boys are actively planning and testing for future work identities, 
apparently sifting alternatives in an effort to find the role that 
will fit most comfortably their particular skills and interests, 
temperamental characteristics and needs. Girls, in contrast, are 
absorbed much more in phantasy, particularly phantasy about 
boys and popularity, marriage and love. 

The dream of college apparently serves as a substitute for 
more direct preoccupation with marriage: girls who do not plan 
to go to college are more explicit in their desire to marry, and 
have a more developed sense of their own sex role. They are 
more aware of and more frankly concerned with sexuality... .The 
view of phantasy as an outlet for sexual impulses follows the 
general psychoanalytic conception that impulses denied direct 
expression will seek some disguised mode of gratification.— 


Thus, it did not surprise them that seventy per cent of freshmen 
women at a Midwestern university answered the question, “What do 


you hope to get out of college?” with, among other things, “the man 
for me.” They also interpreted answers indicating a wish to “leave 
home,” “travel,” and answers relating to potential occupations which 
were given by half the girls as symbolizing “curiosity about the 
sexual mysteries.” 

College and travel are alternatives to a more open interest in 
sexuality. Girls who complete their schooling with high school 
are closer to assuming an adult sex role in early marriages, and 
they have more developed conceptions of their sexual impulses 
and sex roles. Girls who will enter college, on the other hand, 
will delay direct realization and settlement of sexual identity, at 
least for a while. During the interim, sexual energy is converted 
and gratified through a phantasy system that focuses on college, 
the glamour of college life, and a sublimation to general 
sensuous experience.— 


Why do the educators view girls, and only girls, in such 
completely sexual terms? Adolescent boys also have sexual urges 
whose fulfillment may be delayed by college. But for boys, the 
educators are not concerned with sexual “phantasy” they are 
concerned with “reality,” and boys are expected to achieve personal 
autonomy and identity by “committing themselves in the sphere of our 
culture that is most morally worthwhile—the world of work—in 
which they will be acknowledged as persons with recognized 
achievements and potentials.” Even if the boys’ own vocational 
images and goals are not realistic in the beginning—and this study 
showed that they were not—the sex-directed educators recognize, for 
boys, that motives, goals, interests, childish preconceptions, can 
change. They also recognize that, for most, the crucial last chance for 
change is in college. But apparently girls are not expected to change, 
nor are they given the opportunity. Even at coeducational colleges, 
very few girls get the same education as boys. Instead of stimulating 
what psychologists have suggested might be a “latent” desire for 
autonomy in the girls, the sex-directed educators stimulated their 
sexual fantasy of fulfilling all desire for achievement, status, and 
identity vicariously through a man. Instead of challenging the girls’ 
childish, rigid, parochial preconception of woman’s role, they cater 


to it by offering them a potpourri of liberal-arts courses, suitable only 
for a wifely veneer, or narrow programs such as “institutional 
dietetics,” well beneath their abilities and suitable only for a 
“stopgap” job between college and marriage. 

As educators themselves admit, women’s college training does 
not often equip them to enter the business or professional world at a 
meaningful level, either at graduation or afterward; it is not geared to 
career possibilities that would justify the planning and work required 
for higher professional training. For women, the sex-directed 
educators say with approval, college is the place to find a man. 
Presumably, if the campus is “the world’s best marriage mart,” as 
one educator remarked, both sexes are affected. On college campuses 
today, professor and student agree, the girls are the aggressors in the 
marriage hunt. The boys, married or not, are there to stretch their 
minds, to find their own identity, to fill out their life plan; the girls 
are there only to fulfill their sexual function. 

Research reveals that ninety per cent or more of the rising number 
of campus wives who were motivated for marriage by “phantasy and 
the need to conform” are literally working their husbands’ way 
through college.— The girl who quits high school or college to marry 
and have a baby, or to take a job to work her husband’s way through, 
is stunted from the kind of mental growth and understanding that 
higher education is supposed to give, as surely as child labor used to 
stunt the physical growth of children. She is also prevented from 
realistic preparation and planning for a career or a commitment that 
will utilize her abilities and will be of some importance to society 
and herself. 

During the period when the sex-directed educators were devoting 
themselves to women’s sexual adjustment and femininity, economists 
charted a new and revolutionary change in American employment: 
beneath the ebb and flow of boom and recession, they found an 
absolute, spiraling decline in employment possibilities for the 
uneducated and the unskilled. But when the government economists 
on the “Womanpower” study visited college campuses, they found the 
girls unaffected by the statistical probability that they will spend 
twenty-five years or more of their adult lives in jobs outside the 
home. Even when it is virtually certain that most women will no 
longer spend their lives as full-time housewives, the sex-directed 
educators have told them not to plan for a career for fear of 
hampering their sexual adjustment. 


A few years ago, sex-directed education finally infiltrated a 
famous women’s college, which had been proud in the past of its 
large share of graduates who went on to play leading roles in 
education and law and medicine, the arts and sciences, government 
and social welfare. This college had an ex-feminist woman president, 
who was perhaps beginning to suffer a slight guilt at the thought of all 
those women educated like men. A questionnaire, sent to alumnae of 
all ages, indicated that the great majority were satisfied with their 
non-sex-directed education; but a minority complained that their 
education had made them overly conscious of women’s rights and 
equality with men, too interested in careers, possessed of a nagging 
feeling that they should do something in the community, that they 
should at least keep on reading, studying, developing their own 
abilities and interests. Why hadn’t they been educated to be happy 
housewives and mothers? 

The guilty woman college president—guilty personally of being a 
college president, besides having a large number of children and a 
successful husband; guilty also of having been an ardent feminist in 
her time and of having advanced a good way in her career before she 
married; barraged by the therapeutic social scientists who accused 
her of trying to mold these young girls in her own impossible, 
unrealistic, outmoded, energetic, self-demanding, visionary, 
unfeminine image—introduced a functional course in marriage and 
the family, compulsory for all sophomores. 

The circumstances which led to the college’s decision, two years 
later, to drop that functional course are shrouded in secrecy. Nobody 
officially connected with the college will talk. But a neighboring 
educator, a functionalist crusader himself, said with a certain 
contempt for naive wrong-thinking that they were evidently shocked 
over there that the girls who took the functional course got married so 
quickly. (The class of 1959 at that college included a record number 
of 75 wives, nearly a quarter of the girls who still remained in the 
class.) He told me calmly: 

Why should it upset them, over there, that the girls got 
married a little early? There’s nothing wrong with early 
marriage, with the proper preparation. I guess they can’t get 
over the old notion that women should be educated to develop 
their minds. They deny it, but one can’t help suspecting that they 
still believe in careers for women. Unfortunately, the idea that 



women go to college to get a husband is anathema to some 
educators. 


At the college in question, “Marriage and the Family” is taught 
once again as a course in sociology, geared to critical analysis of 
these changing social institutions, and not to functional action, or 
group therapy But in the neighboring institution, my professor- 
informant is second in command of a booming department of “family- 
life education,” which is currently readying a hundred graduate 
students to teach functional marriage courses in colleges, state 
teachers’ colleges, junior colleges, community colleges, and high 
schools across America. One senses that these new sex-directed 
educators do indeed think of themselves as crusaders—crusaders 
against the old nontherapeutic, nonfunctional values of the intellect, 
against the old, demanding, sexless education, which confined itself 
to the life of the mind and the pursuit of truth, and never even tried to 
help girls pursue a man, have orgasms, or adjust. As my informant 
elaborated: 

These kids are concerned about dating and sex, how to get 
along with boys, is it all right to have premarital relations. 
Maybe a girl is trying to decide about her major; she’s thinking 
about a career, and she’s also thinking about marriage. You set 
up a role-playing situation to help her work it out—so she sees 
the effect on the children. She sees she need not feel guilty about 
being just a housewife. 


There often is an air of defensiveness, when a sex-directed 
educator is asked to define, for the uninitiated, the “functional 
approach.” One told a reporter: 

It’s all very well to talk big talk—intellectual 
generalizations, abstract concepts, the United Nations—but 
somewhere we have to start facing these problems of 
interpersonal relations on a more modest scale. We have to stop 
being so teacher-centered, and become student-centered. It’s not 
what you think they need, but what they think they need. That’s 



the functional approach. You walk into a class, and your aim is 
no longer to cover a certain content, but to set up an atmosphere 
that makes your students feel comfortable and talk freely about 
interpersonal relations, in basic terms, not highfalutin 
generalizations. 

Kids tend in adolescence to be very idealistic. They think 
they can acquire a different set of values, marry a boy from a 
different background, and that it won’t matter later on. We make 
them aware it will matter, so they won’t walk so lightly into 
mixed marriages, and other traps.— 


The reporter asked why “Mate Selection,” “Adjustment to 
Marriage” and “Education for Family Living” are taught in colleges 
at all, if the teacher is committed not to teach, if no material is to be 
learned or covered, and if the only aim is to help the student 
understand personal problems and emotions. After surveying a 
number of marriage courses for Mademoiselle , she concluded: “Only 
in America would you overhear one undergraduate say to another 
with total ingenuousness, ‘You should have been in class today. We 
talked about male role-playing and a couple of people really opened 
up and got personal.’” 

The point of role-playing, a technique adapted from group 
therapy, is to get students to understand problems “on a feeling 
level.” Emotions more heady than those of the usual college 
classroom are undoubtedly stirred up when the professor invites them 
to “role-play” the feelings of “a boy and a girl on their wedding 
night.” 

There is a pseudotherapeutic air, as the professor listens patiently 
to endless self-conscious student speeches about personal feelings 
(“verbalizing”) in the hopes of sparking a “group insight.” But though 
the functional course is not group therapy, it is certainly an 
indoctrination of opinions and values through manipulation of the 
students’ emotions; and in this manipulative disguise, it is no longer 
subject to the critical thinking demanded in other academic 
disciplines. 

The students take as gospel the bits and pieces assigned in text 
books that explain Freud or quote Margaret Mead; they do not have 
the frame of reference that comes from the actual study of psychology 
or anthropology. In fact, by explicitly banning the usual critical 


attitudes of college study, these pseudoscientific marriage courses 
give what is often no more than popular opinion, the fiat of scientific 
law. The opinion may be currently fashionable, or already outdated, 
in psychiatric circles, but it is often merely a prejudice, buttressed by 
psychological or sociological jargon and well-chosen statistics to 
give the appearance of unquestionable scientific truth. 

The discussion on premarital intercourse usually leads to the 
scientific conclusion that it is wrong. One professor builds up his 
case against sexual intercourse before marriage with statistics chosen 
to demonstrate that premarital sexual experience tends to make 
marital adjustment more difficult. The student will not know of the 
other statistics which refute this point; if the professor knows of them, 
he can in the functional marriage course feel free to disregard them as 
unfunctional. (“Ours is a sick society. The students need some 
accurate definitive kind of knowledge.”) It is functional “knowledge” 
that “only the exceptional woman can make a go of a commitment to a 
career.” Of course, since most women in the past have not had 
careers, the few who did were all “exceptional”—as a mixed 
marriage is “exceptional,” and premarital intercourse for a girl is 
exceptional. All are phenomena of less than 51 per cent. The whole 
point of functional education often seems to be: what 51 per cent of 
the population does today, 100 per cent should do tomorrow. 

So the sex-directed educator promotes a girl’s adjustment by 
dissuading her from any but the “normal” commitment to marriage 
and the family. One such educator goes farther than imaginary role- 
playing; she brings real ex-working mothers to class to talk about 
their guilt at leaving their children in the morning. Somehow, the 
students seldom hear about a woman who has successfully broken 
convention—the young woman doctor whose sister handled her 
practice when her babies were born, the mother who adjusted her 
babies’ sleeping hours to her work schedule without problems, the 
happy Protestant girl who married a Catholic, the sexually serene 
wife whose premarital experience did not seem to hurt her marriage. 
“Exceptional” cases are of no practical concern to the functionalist, 
though he often acknowledges scrupulously that there are exceptions. 
(The “exceptional child,” in educational jargon, bears a connotation 
of handicap: the blind, the crippled, the retarded, the genius, the 
defier of convention—anyone who is different from the crowd, in any 
way unique—bears a common shame; he is “exceptional.”) 
Somehow, the student gets the point that she does not want to be the 



“exceptional woman.” 

Conformity is built into life-adjustment education in many ways. 
There is little or no intellectual challenge or discipline involved in 
merely learning to adjust. The marriage course is the easiest course 
on almost every campus, no matter how anxiously professors try to 
toughen it by assigning heavy reading and weekly reports. No one 
expects that case histories (which when read for no serious use are 
not much more than psychiatric soap operas), role-playing, talking 
about sex in class, or writing personal papers will lead to critical 
thinking; that’s not the point of functional preparation for marriage. 

This is not to say that the study of a social science, as such, 
produces conformity in woman or man. This is hardly the effect when 
it is studied critically and motivated by the usual aims of intellectual 
discipline, or when it is mastered for professional use. But for girls 
forbidden both professional and intellectual commitment by the new 
mystique, the study of sociology, anthropology, psychology is often 
merely “functional.” And in the functional course itself, the girls take 
those bits and pieces from Freud and Mead, the sexual statistics, the 
role-playing insights, not only literally and out of context, but 
personally—to be acted upon in their own lives. That, after all, is the 
whole point of life-adjustment education. It can happen among 
adolescents in almost any course that involves basic emotional 
material. It will certainly happen when the material is deliberately 
used not to build critical knowledge but to stir up personal emotions. 
Therapy, in the orthodox psychoanalytic tradition, requires the 
suppression of critical thinking (intellectual resistance) for the proper 
emotions to come out and be worked through. In therapy, this may 
work. But does education work, mixed up with therapy? One course 
could hardly be crucial, in any man or woman’s life, but when it is 
decided that the very aim of woman’s education should not be 
intellectual growth, but sexual adjustment, certain questions could be 
very crucial. 

One might ask: if an education geared to the growth of the human 
mind weakens femininity, will an education geared to femininity 
weaken the growth of the mind? What is femininity, if it can be 
destroyed by an education which makes the mind grow, or induced by 
not letting the mind grow? 

One might even ask a question in Freudian terms: what happens 
when sex becomes not only id for women, but ego and superego as 
well; when education, instead of developing the self, is concentrated 



on developing the sexual functions? What happens when education 
gives new authority to the feminine “shoulds”—which already have 
the authority of tradition, convention, prejudice, popular opinion— 
instead of giving women the power of critical thought, the 
independence and autonomy to question blind authority, new or old? 
At Pembroke, the women’s college at Brown University in 
Providence, R.I., a guest psychoanalyst was recently invited to lead a 
buzz session on “what it means to be a woman.” The students seemed 
disconcerted when the guest analyst, Dr. Margaret Lawrence, said, in 
simple, un-Freudian English, that it was rather silly to tell women 
today that their main place is in the home, when most of the work 
women used to do is now done outside the home, and everyone else 
in the family spends most of his time outside the house. Hadn’t they 
better be educated to join the rest of the family, out there in the 
world? 

This, somehow, was not what the girls expected to hear from a 
lady psychoanalyst. Unlike the usual functional, sex-directed lesson, 
it upset a conventional feminine “should.” It also implied that they 
should begin to make certain decisions of their own, about their 
education and their future. 

The functional lesson is much more soothing to the unsure 
sophomore who has not yet quite made the break from childhood. It 
does not defy the comfortable, safe conventions; it gives her 
sophisticated words for accepting her parents’ view, the popular 
view, without having to figure out views of her own. It also reassures 
her that she doesn’t have to work in college; that she can be lazy, 
follow impulse. She doesn’t have to postpone present pleasure for 
future goals; she doesn’t have to read eight books for a history paper, 
take the tough physics course. It might give her a masculinity 
complex. After all, didn’t the book say: 

Woman’s intellectuality is to a large extent paid for by the 
loss of valuable feminine qualities.... All observations point to 
the fact that the intellectual woman is masculinized; in her 
warm, intuitive knowledge has yielded to cold unproductive 
thinking.— 


A girl doesn’t have to be very lazy, very unsure, to take the hint. 


Thinking, after all, is hard work. In fact, she would have to do some 
very cold hard thinking about her own warm, intuitive knowledge to 
challenge this authoritative statement. 

It is no wonder that several generations of American college girls 
of fine mind and fiery spirit took the message of the sex-directed 
educators, and fled college and career to marry and have babies 
before they became so “intellectual” that, heaven forbid, they 
wouldn’t be able to enjoy sex “in a feminine way.” 

Even without the help of sex-directed educators, the girl growing 
up with brains and spirit in America learns soon enough to watch her 
step, “to be like all the others,” not to be herself. She learns not to 
work too hard, think too often, ask too many questions. In high 
schools, in coeducational colleges, girls are reluctant to speak out in 
class for fear of being typed as “brains.” This phenomenon has been 
borne out by many studies;— any bright girl or woman can document 
it from personal experience. Bryn Mawr girls have a special term for 
the way they talk when boys are around, compared to the real talk 
they can permit themselves when they are not afraid to let their 
intelligence show. In the coeducational colleges, girls are regarded 
by others—and think of themselves—primarily in terms of their 
sexual function as dates, future wives. They “seek my security in 
him” instead of finding themselves, and each act of self-betrayal tips 
the scale further away from identity to passive self-contempt. 

There are exceptions, of course. The Mellon study found that 
some Vassar seniors, as compared with freshmen, showed an 
enormous growth in four years—the kind of growth toward identity 
and self-realization which scientists now know takes place in people 
in their twenties and even thirties, forties, and fifties, long after the 
period of physical growth is over. But many girls showed no signs of 
growth. These were the ones who resisted, successfully, involvement 
with ideas, the academic work of the college, the intellectual 
disciplines, the larger values. They resisted intellectual development, 
self-development, in favor of being “feminine,” not too brainy, not 
too interested, not too different from the other girls. It was not that 
their actual sexual interests interfered; in fact, the psychologists got 
the impression that with many of these girls, “interest in men and 
marriage is a kind of defense against intellectual development.” For 
such girls, even sex is not real, merely a kind of conformity. The sex- 
directed educator would find no fault in this kind of adjustment. But 
in view of other evidence, one might ask: could such an adjustment 


mask a failure to grow that becomes finally a human deformity? 

Several years ago a team of California psychologists who had 
been following the development of 140 bright youngsters noticed a 
sudden sharp drop in IQ curves in some of the teenage records. When 
they investigated this, they found that while most of the youngsters’ 
curves remained at the same high level, year after year, those whose 
curves dropped were all girls. The drop had nothing to do with the 
physiological changes of adolescence; it was not found in all girls. 
But in the records of those girls whose intelligence dropped were 
found repeated statements to the effect that “it isn’t too smart for a 
girl to be smart.” In a very real sense, these girls were arrested in 
their mental growth, at age fourteen or fifteen, by conformity to the 
feminine image.— 

The fact is, girls today and those responsible for their education 
do face a choice. They must decide between adjustment, conformity, 
avoidance of conflict, therapy—or individuality, human identity, 
education in the truest sense, with all its pains of growth. But they do 
not have to face the mistaken choice painted by the sex-directed 
educators, with their dire warnings against loss of femininity and 
sexual frustration. For the perceptive psychologist who studied the 
Vassar girls uncovered some startling new evidence about the 
students who chose to become truly involved with their education. It 
seems that those seniors who showed the greatest signs of growth 
were more “masculine” in the sense of being less passive and 
conventional; but they were more “feminine” in inner emotional life, 
and the ability to gratify it. They also scored higher, far higher than as 
freshmen, on certain scales commonly supposed to measure neuroses. 
The psychologist commented: “We have come to regard elevations 
on such scales as evidence that education is taking place.”— He found 
girls with conflicts showed more growth than the adjusted ones, who 
had no wish to become independent. The least adjusted were also the 
more developed—“already prepared for even further changes and 
more independence.” In summing up the Vassar study, its director 
could not avoid the psychological paradox: education for women 
does make them less feminine, less adjusted—but it makes them 
grow. 


Being less “feminine” is closely related to being more 
educated and more mature.... It is interesting to note, however, 


that Feminine Sensitivity, which may well have sources in 
physiology and in early identifications, does not decrease during 
the four years; “feminine” interests and feminine role behavior, 
i.e., conventionality and passivity, can be understood as later 
and more superficial acquisitions, and, hence, more susceptible 
to decrease as the individual becomes more mature and more 
educated.... 

One might say that if we were interested in stability alone, 
we would do well to plan a program to keep freshmen as they 
are, rather than to try to increase their education, their maturity 
and their flexibility with regard to sex-role behavior. Seniors 
are more unstable because there is more to be stabilized, less 
certain of their identities because more possibilities are open to 
them.— 


At graduation, such women were, however, only at a “halfway 
point” in their growth to autonomy. Their fate depended on “whether 
they now enter a situation in which they can continue to grow or 
whether they find some quick but regressive means for relieving the 
stress.” The flight into marriage is the easiest, quickest way to 
relieve that stress. To the educator, bent on women’s growth to 
autonomy, such a marriage is “regressive.” To the sex-directed 
educator, it is femininity fulfilled. 

A therapist at another college told me of girls who had never 
committed themselves, either to their work or any other activity of the 
college and who felt that they would “go to pieces” when their 
parents refused to let them leave college to marry the boys in whom 
they found “security.” When these girls, with help, finally applied 
themselves to work—or even began to feel a sense of self by taking 
part in an activity such as student government or the school 
newspaper—they lost their desperate need for “security.” They 
finished college, worked, went out with more mature young men, and 
are now marrying on quite a different emotional basis. 

Unlike the sex-directed educator, this professional therapist felt 
that the girl who suffers almost to the point of breakdown in the 
senior year, and who faces a personal decision about her own future 
—faces even an irreconcilable conflict between the values and 
interests and abilities her education has given her, and the 
conventional role of housewife—is still “healthier” than the adjusted, 


calm, stable girl in whom education did not “take” at all and who 
steps smoothly from her role as parents’ child to husband’s wife, 
conventionally feminine, without ever waking up to painful 
individual identity. 

And yet the fact is, today most girls do not let their education 
“take” they stop themselves before getting this close to identity. I 
could see this in the girls at Smith, and the girls I interviewed from 
other colleges. It was clear in the Vassar research. The Vassar study 
showed that just as girls begin to feel the conflicts, the growing pains 
of identity, they stop growing. They more or less consciously stop 
their own growth to play the feminine role. Or, to put it in another 
way, they evade further experiences conducive to growth. Until now 
this stunting or evasion of growth has been considered normal 
feminine adjustment. But when the Vassar study followed women 
past the senior year—where they were on the verge of this painful 
crucial step in personal growth—out into life, where most of them 
were playing the conventional feminine role, these facts emerged: 


1. Twenty or twenty-five years out of college, these women 
measured lower than seniors on the “Development Scale” 
which covered the whole gamut of mental, emotional, and 
personal growth. They did not lose all the growth achieved 
in college (alumnae scored higher than freshmen) but—in 
spite of the psychological readiness for further growth at 
twenty-one—they did not keep growing. 

2. These women were, for the most part, adjusted as suburban 
housewives, conscientious mothers, active in their 
communities. But, except for the professional career 
women, they had not continued to pursue deep interests of 
their own. There seemed some reason to believe that the 
cessation of growth was related to the lack of deep 
personal interests, the lack of an individual commitment. 

3. The women who, twenty years later, were most troubling to 
the psychologist were the most conventionally feminine— 
the ones who were not interested, even in college, in 
anything except finding a husband. 1 


In the Vassar study there was one group of students who in senior 


year neither suffered conflict to the point of near-breakdown nor 
stopped their own growth to flee into marriage. These were students 
who were preparing for a profession; they had gained, in college, 
interests deep enough to commit themselves to a career. The study 
revealed that virtually all such students with professional ambitions 
plan to marry, but marriage is for them an activity in which they will 
voluntarily choose to participate rather than something that is 
necessary for any sense of personal identity. Such students have a 
clear sense of direction, a greater degree of independence and self- 
confidence than most. They may be engaged or deeply in love, but 
they do not feel they must sacrifice their own individualities or their 
career ambitions if they wish to marry. With these girls, the 
psychologists did not get the impression, as they did with so many, 
that interest in men and in marriage was a kind of defense against 
intellectual development. Their interest in some particular man was 
real. At the same time, it did not interfere with their education. 

But the degree to which the feminine mystique has brainwashed 
American educators was shown when the director of the Vassar study 
described to a panel of his colleagues such a girl, who “not only 
makes top grades, but in whose case there is high probability that a 
scholarly or professional career will be followed.” 

Julie B’s mother is a teacher and scholar and the driving 
force in the family.... Mother gets after father for being too 
easygoing. Father doesn’t mind if his wife and daughter have 
high-brow tastes and ideas, only such are not for him. Julie 
becomes out-door girl, nonconformist, dominates her older 
brother, but is conscience-stricken if she doesn’t do required 
reading or if grade average slips. Sticks to her intention to do 
graduate work and become teacher. Older brother now college 
teacher and Julie, herself a graduate student now, is married to a 
graduate student in natural science. 

When she was a freshman we presented her interview data, 
without interpretation, to a group of psychiatrists, psychologists, 
social scientists. Our idea of a really promising girl. Common 
question: “What’s wrong with her?” Common opinion: she 
would need psychotherapy. Actually she got engaged to her 
budding scientist in her sophomore year, became increasingly 
conscious of herself as an intellectual and outsider, but still 
couldn’t neglect her work. “If only I could flunk something,” she 



said. 


It takes a very daring educator today to attack the sex-directed 
line, for he must challenge, in essence, the conventional image of 
femininity. The image says that women are passive, dependent, 
conformist, incapable of critical thought or original contribution to 
society; and in the best traditions of the self-fulfilling prophecy, sex- 
directed education continues to make them so, as in an earlier era, 
lack of education made them so. No one asks whether a passively 
feminine, uncomplicated, dependent woman—in a primitive village 
or in a suburb—actually enjoys greater happiness, greater sexual 
fulfillment than a woman who commits herself in college to serious 
interests beyond the home. No one, until very recently when Russians 
orbited moons and men in space, asked whether adjustment should be 
education’s aim. In fact, the sex-directed educators, so bent on 
women’s feminine adjustment, could gaily cite the most ominous facts 
about American housewives—their emptiness, idleness, boredom, 
alcoholism, drug addiction, disintegration to fat, disease, and despair 
after forty, when their sexual function has been filled—without 
deviating a bit from their crusade to educate all women to this sole 
end. 

So the sex-directed educator disposes of the thirty years women 
are likely to live after forty with three blithe proposals: 


1. A course in “Law and Order for the Housewife” to enable 
her to deal, as a widow, with insurances, taxes, wills, 
investments. 

2. Men might retire earlier to help keep their wives company. 

3. A brief fling in “volunteer community services, politics, 
the arts or the like”—though, since the woman will be 
untrained the main value will be personal therapy. “To 
choose only one example, a woman who wants some really 
novel experience may start a campaign to rid her city or 
country of that nauseous eczema of our modern world, the 
billboard. 



“The billboards will remain and multiply like bacteria 
infesting the landscape, but at least she will have had a vigorous 
adult education course in local politics. Then she can relax and 
devote herself to the alumnae activities of the institution from 
which she graduated. Many a woman approaching middle years 
has found new vigor and enthusiasm in identifying herself with 
the on-going life of her college and in expanding her maternal 
instincts, now that her own children are grown, to encompass 
the new generations of students which inhabit its campus.”— 


She could also take a part-time job, he said, but she shouldn’t take 
work away from men who must feed their families, and, in fact, she 
won’t have the skills or experience for a very “exciting” job. 

...there is great demand for experienced and reliable women 
who can relieve younger women of family responsibilities on 
regular days or afternoons, so that they may either develop 
community interests or hold part-time jobs of their own.... 
There is no reason why women of culture and breeding, who in 
any case for years have probably done most of their own 
housework, should recoil from such arrangements.— 


If the feminine mystique has not destroyed her sense of humor, a 
woman might laugh at such a candid description of the life her 
expensive sex-directed education fits her for: an occasional alumnae 
reunion and someone else’s housework. The sad fact is, in the era of 
Freud and functionalism and the feminine mystique, few educators 
escaped such a sex-distortion of their own values. Max Lerner,— 
even Riesman in The Lonely Crowd, suggested that women need not 
seek their own autonomy through productive contribution to society— 
they might better help their husbands hold on to theirs, through play. 
And so sex-directed education segregated recent generations of able 
American women as surely as separate-but-equal education 
segregated able American Negroes from the opportunity to realize 
their full abilities in the mainstream of American life. 

It does not explain anything to say that in this era of conformity 
colleges did not really educate anybody. The Jacob report,— which 


leveled this indictment against American colleges generally, and 
even the more sophisticated indictment by Sanford and his group, 
does not recognize that the colleges’ failure to educate women for an 
identity beyond their sexual role was undoubtedly a crucial factor in 
perpetuating, if not creating, that conformity which educators now so 
fashionably rail against. For it is impossible to educate women to 
devote themselves so early and completely to their sexual role— 
women who, as Freud said, can be very active indeed in achieving a 
passive end—without pulling men into the same comfortable trap. In 
effect, sex-directed education led to a lack of identity in women most 
easily solved by early marriage. And a premature commitment to any 
role—marriage or vocation—closes off the experiences, the testing, 
the failures and successes in various spheres of activity that are 
necessary for a person to achieve full maturity, individual identity. 

The danger of stunting of boys’ growth by early domesticity was 
recognized by the sex-directed educators. As Margaret Mead put it 
recently: 

Early domesticity has always been characteristic of most 
savages, of most peasants and of the urban poor.... If there are 
babies, it means, you know, the father’s term paper gets all 
mixed up with the babies’ bottle.... Early student marriage is 
domesticating boys so early they don’t have a chance for full 
intellectual development. They don’t have a chance to give their 
entire time, not necessarily to study in the sense of staying in the 
library—but in the sense that the married students don’t have 
time to experience, to think, to sit up all night in bull sessions, to 
develop as individuals. This is not only important for the 
intellectuals, but also the boys who are going to be the future 
statesmen of the country and lawyers and doctors and all sorts of 
professional men.— 


But what of the girls who will never even write the term papers 
because of the baby’s bottle? Because of the feminine mystique, few 
have seen it as a tragedy that they thereby trap themselves in that one 
passion, one occupation, one role for life. Advanced educators in the 
early 1960’s have their own cheerful fantasies about postponing 
women’s education until after they have had their babies; they thereby 



acknowledge that they have resigned themselves almost unanimously 
to the early marriages, which continue unabated. 

But by choosing femininity over the painful growth to full identity, 
by never achieving the hard core of self that comes not from fantasy 
but from mastering reality, these girls are doomed to suffer ultimately 
that bored, diffuse feeling of purposelessness, nonexistence, non¬ 
involvement with the world that can be called anomie, or lack of 
identity, or merely felt as the problem that has no name. 

Still, it is too easy to make education the scapegoat. Whatever the 
mistakes of the sex-directed educators, other educators have fought a 
futile, frustrating rear-guard battle trying to make able women 
“envision new goals and grow by reaching for them.” In the last 
analysis, millions of able women in this free land chose, themselves, 
not to use the door education could have opened for them. The choice 
—and the responsibility—for the race back home was finally their 
own. 



The Mistaken Choice 


A. mystique does not compel its own acceptance. For the feminine 
mystique to have “brainwashed” American women of nonsexual 
human purposes for more than fifteen years, it must have filled real 
needs in those who seized on it for others and those who accepted it 
for themselves. Those needs may not have been the same in all the 
women or in all the purveyors of the mystique. But there were many 
needs, at this particular time in America, that made us pushovers for 
the mystique; needs so compelling that we suspended critical thought, 
as one does in the face of an intuitive truth. The trouble is, when need 
is strong enough, intuition can also lie. 

There was, just before the feminine mystique took hold in 
America, a war, which followed a depression and ended with the 
explosion of an atom bomb. After the loneliness of war and the 
unspeakableness of the bomb, against the frightening uncertainty, the 
cold immensity of the changing world, women as well as men sought 
the comforting reality of home and children. In the fox-holes, the GI’s 
had pinned up pictures of Betty Grable, but the songs they asked to 
hear were lullabies. And when they got out of the Army they were too 
old to go home to their mothers. The needs of sex and love are 
undeniably real in men and women, boys and girls, but why at this 
time did they seem to so many the only needs? 

We were all vulnerable, homesick, lonely, frightened. A pent-up 
hunger for marriage, home, and children was felt simultaneously by 
several different generations; a hunger which, in the prosperity of 
postwar America, everyone could suddenly satisfy. The young GI, 
made older than his years by the war, could meet his lonely need for 
love and mother by re-creating his childhood home. Instead of dating 
many girls until college and profession were achieved, he could 
marry on the GI bill, and give his own babies the tender mother love 
he was no longer baby enough to seek for himself. Then there were 
the slightly older men: men of twenty-five whose marriages had been 
postponed by the war and who now felt they must make up for lost 



time; men in their thirties, kept first by depression and then by war 
from marrying, or if married, from enjoying the comforts of home. 

For the girls, these lonely years added an extra urgency to their 
search for love. Those who married in the thirties saw their husbands 
off to war; those who grew up in the forties were afraid, with reason, 
that they might never have the love, the homes and children which 
few women would willingly miss. When the men came back, there 
was a headlong rush into marriage. The lonely years when husbands 
or husbands-to-be were away at war—or could be sent away at a 
bomb’s fall—made women particularly vulnerable to the feminine 
mystique. They were told that the cold dimension of loneliness which 
the war had added to their lives was the necessary price they had to 
pay for a career, for any interest outside the home. The mystique 
spelled out a choice—love, home, children, or other goals and 
purposes in life. Given such a choice, was it any wonder that so many 
American women chose love as their whole purpose? 

The baby boom of the immediate postwar years took place in 
every country. But it was not permeated, in most other countries, with 
the mystique of feminine fulfillment. It did not in other countries lead 
to the even greater baby boom of the fifties, with the rise in teenage 
marriages and pregnancies, and the increase in family size. The 
number of American women with three or more children doubled in 
twenty years. And educated women, after the war, led all the others 
in the race to have more babies.- (The generation before mine, the 
women born between 1910 and 1919, showed the change most 
sharply. During their twenties, their low pregnancy rate led to 
warnings that education was going to wipe out the human race; in 
their thirties, they suddenly showed a sharp increase in pregnancies, 
despite the lowered biological capacity that makes the pregnancy rate 
decline with age.) 

More babies are always born after wars. But today the American 
population explosion comes in large part from teenage marriages. 
The number of children born to teenagers rose 165 per cent between 
1940 and 1957, according to Metropolitan Life Insurance figures. 
The girls who would normally go to college but leave or forgo it to 
marry (eighteen and nineteen are the most frequent ages of marriage 
of American girls today; half of all American women are married by 
twenty) are products of the mystique. They give up education without 
a qualm, truly believing that they will find “fulfillment” as wives and 
mothers. I suppose a girl today, who knows from statistics or merely 


from observation that if she waits to marry until she finishes college, 
or trains for a profession, most of the men will be married to 
someone else, has as much reason to fear she may miss feminine 
fulfillment as the war gave the girls in the forties. But this does not 
explain why they drop out of college to support their husbands, while 
the boys continue with their education. 

It has not happened in other countries. Even in countries where, 
during the war, many more men were killed and more women were 
forced forever to miss the fulfillment of marriage, women did not run 
home again in panic. And in the other countries today, girls are as 
hungry as boys for the education that is the road to the future. 

War made women particularly vulnerable to the mystique, but the 
war, with all its frustrations, was not the only reason they went home 
again. Nor can it be explained by “the servant problem,” which is an 
excuse the educated woman often gives to herself. During the war, 
when the cooks and maids went to work in the war plants, the servant 
problem was even more severe than in recent years. But at that time, 
women of spirit often worked out unconventional domestic 
arrangements to keep their professional commitments. (I knew two 
young wartime mothers who pooled forces while their husbands were 
overseas. One, an actress, took both babies in the morning, while the 
other did graduate work; the second took over in the afternoon, when 
the other had a rehearsal or matinee. I also knew a woman who 
switched her baby’s night-and-day so he would sleep at a neighbor’s 
house during the hours she was at medical school.) And in the cities, 
then, the need for nurseries and day-care centers for the children of 
working mothers was seen, and met. 

But in the years of postwar femininity, even women who could 
afford, and find, a full-time nurse or housekeeper chose to take care 
of house and children themselves. And in the cities, during the fifties, 
the nursery and day-care centers for the children of working mothers 
all but disappeared; the very suggestion of their need brought 
hysterical outcries from educated housewives as well as the 
purveyors of the mystique.^ 

When the war ended, of course, GI’s came back to take the jobs 
and fill the seats in colleges and universities that for a while had 
been occupied largely by girls. For a short time, competition was 
keen and the resurgence of the old anti-feminine prejudices in 
business and the professions made it difficult for a girl to keep or 
advance in a job. This undoubtedly sent many women scurrying for 


the cover of marriage and home. Subtle discrimination against 
women, to say nothing of the sex wage differential, is still an 
unwritten law today, and its effects are almost as devastating and as 
hard to fight as the flagrant opposition faced by the feminists. A 
woman researcher on Time magazine, for instance, cannot, no matter 
what her ability, aspire to be a writer; the unwritten law makes the 
men writers and editors, the women researchers. She doesn’t get 
mad; she likes her job, she likes her boss. She is not a crusader for 
women’s rights; it isn’t a case for the Newspaper Guild. But it is 
discouraging nevertheless. If she is never going to get anywhere, why 
keep on? 

Women were often driven embittered from their chosen fields 
when, ready and able to handle a better job, they were passed over 
for a man. In some jobs a woman had to be content to do the work 
while the man got the credit. Or if she got the better job, she had to 
face the bitterness and hostility of the man. Because the race to get 
ahead, in the big organization, in every profession in America, is so 
terribly competitive for men, competition from women is somehow 
the last straw—and much easier to fight by simply evoking that 
unwritten law. During the war, women’s abilities, and the inevitable 
competition, were welcome; after the war they were confronted with 
that polite but inpenetrable curtain of hostility. It was easier for a 
woman to love and be loved, and have an excuse not to compete with 
men. 

Still, during the depression, able, spirited girls sacrificed, fought 
prejudice, and braved competition in order to pursue their careers, 
even though there were fewer places to compete for. Nor did many 
see any conflict between career and love. In the prosperous postwar 
years, there were plenty of jobs, plenty of places in all the 
professions; there was no real need to give up everything for love 
and marriage. The less-educated girls, after all, did not leave the 
factories and go back to being maids. The proportion of women in 
industry has steadily increased since the war—but not of women in 
careers or professions requiring training, effort, personal 
commitment.- “I live through my husband and children,” a frank 
member of my own generation told me. “It’s easier that way. In this 
world now, it’s easier to be a woman, if you take advantage of it.” 

In this sense, what happened to women is part of what happened 
to all of us in the years after the war. We found excuses for not facing 
the problems we once had the courage to face. The American spirit 


fell into a strange sleep; men as well as women, scared liberals, 
disillusioned radicals, conservatives bewildered and frustrated by 
change—the whole nation stopped growing up. All of us went back 
into the warm brightness of home, the way it was when we were 
children and slept peacefully upstairs while our parents read, or 
played bridge in the living room, or rocked on the front porch in the 
summer evening in our home towns. 

Women went home again just as men shrugged off the bomb, 
forgot the concentration camps, condoned corruption, and fell into 
helpless conformity; just as the thinkers avoided the complex larger 
problems of the postwar world. It was easier, safer, to think about 
love and sex than about communism, McCarthy, and the uncontrolled 
bomb. It was easier to look for Freudian sexual roots in man’s 
behavior, his ideas, and his wars than to look critically at his society 
and act constructively to right its wrongs. There was a kind of 
personal retreat, even on the part of the most far-sighted, the most 
spirited; we lowered our eyes from the horizon, and steadily 
contemplated our own navels. 

We can see all this now, in retrospect. Then, it was easier to 
build the need for love and sex into the end-all purpose of life, 
avoiding personal commitment to truth in a catch-all commitment to 
“home” and “family.” For the social worker, the psychologist and the 
numerous “family” counselors, analytically oriented therapy for 
private patients on personal problems of sex, personality, and 
interpersonal relations was safer and more lucrative than probing too 
deeply for the common causes of man’s suffering. If you no longer 
wanted to think about the whole of mankind, at least you could “help” 
individuals without getting into trouble. Irwin Shaw, who once 
goaded the American conscience on the great issues of war and peace 
and racial prejudice now wrote about sex and adultery; Norman 
Mailer and the young beatnik writers confined their revolutionary 
spirit to sex and kicks and drugs and advertising themselves in four- 
letter words. It was easier and more fashionable for writers to think 
about psychology than politics, about private motives than public 
purposes. Painters retreated into an abstract expressionism that 
flaunted discipline and glorified the evasion of meaning. Dramatists 
reduced human purpose to bitter, pretentious nonsense: “the theater of 
the absurd.” Freudian thought gave this whole process of escape its 
dimension of endless, tantalizing, intellectual mystery: process within 
process, meaning hidden within meaning, until meaning itself 



disappeared and the hopeless, dull outside world hardly existed at 
all. As a drama critic said, in a rare note of revulsion at the stage 
world of Tennessee Williams, it was as if no reality remained for 
man except his sexual perversions, and the fact that he loved and 
hated his mother. 

The Freudian mania in the American culture, apart from the 
practice of psychotherapy itself, also filled a real need in the forties 
and fifties: the need for an ideology, a national purpose, an 
application of the mind to the problems of people. Analysts 
themselves have recently suggested that the lack of an ideology or 
national purpose may be partially responsible for the personal 
emptiness which sends many men and women into psychotherapy; 
they are actually looking for an identity which therapy alone can 
never give. The religious revival in America coincided with the rush 
to psychoanalysis, and perhaps came about for the same reason— 
behind the search for identity, or for shelter, a vacuum of larger 
purpose. It is significant that many ministers now spend much of their 
time in giving psychotherapy—pastoral counseling—to members of 
their congregations. Do they thereby also evade the larger questions, 
the real search? 

When I was interviewing on college campuses in the late fifties, 
chaplains and sociologists alike testified to the younger generation’s 
“privatism.” A major reason for the early marriage movement, they 
felt, was that the young saw no other true value in contemporary 
society. It’s easy for the professional social critic to blame the 
younger generation for cynical preoccupation with private pleasure 
and material security—or for the empty negativism of beatnikery. But 
if their parents, teachers, preachers, have abdicated purposes larger 
than personal emotional adjustment, material success, security, what 
larger purpose can the young learn? 

The five babies, the movement to suburbia, do-it-yourself and 
even beatnikery filled homely needs; they also took the place of those 
larger needs and purposes with which the most spirited in this nation 
were once concerned. “I’m bored with politics...there’s nothing you 
can do about it anyhow.” When a dollar was too cheap, and too 
expensive, to live a life for, and your whole society seemed 
concerned with little else, the family and its loves and problems— 
this, at least, was good and true. And the literal swallowing of Freud 
gave the illusion that it was more important than it really was for the 
whole of suffering society, as the literal parroting of Freudian 



phrases deluded suffering individuals into believing that they were 
cured, when underneath they had not yet even faced their real 
troubles. 

Under the Freudian microscope, however, a very different 
concept of family began to emerge. Oedipus conflict and sibling 
rivalry became household words. Frustration was as great a peril to 
childhood as scarlet fever. And singled out for special attention was 
the “mother.” It was suddenly discovered that the mother could be 
blamed for almost everything. In every case history of troubled child; 
alcoholic, suicidal, schizophrenic, psychopathic, neurotic adult; 
impotent, homosexual male; frigid, promiscuous female; ulcerous, 
asthmatic, and otherwise disturbed American, could be found a 
mother. A frustrated, repressed, disturbed, martyred, never satisfied, 
unhappy woman. A demanding, nagging, shrewish wife. A rejecting, 
overprotecting, dominating mother. World War II revealed that 
millions of American men were psychologically incapable of facing 
the shock of war, of facing life away from their “moms.” Clearly 
something was “wrong” with American women. 

By unfortunate coincidence, this attack against mothers came 
about at the same time that American women were beginning to use 
the rights of their emancipation, to go in increasing numbers to 
college and professional schools, to rise in industry and the 
professions in inevitable competition with men. Women were just 
beginning to play a part in American society that depended not on 
their sex, but on their individual abilities. It was apparent to the 
naked eye, obvious to the returning GI, that these American women 
were indeed more independent, strong-minded, assertive of will and 
opinion, less passive and feminine than, for instance, the German and 
Japanese girls who, the GI’s boasted, “even washed our backs for 
us.” It was less apparent, however, that these girls were different 
from their mothers. Perhaps that is why, by some strange distortion of 
logic, all the neuroses of children past and present were blamed on 
the independence and individuality of this new generation of 
American girls—independence and individuality which the 
housewife-mothers of the previous generation had never had. 

The evidence seemed inescapable: the figures on the psychiatric 
discharges in the war and the mothers in their case histories; the early 
Kinsey figures on the incapacity of American women to enjoy sexual 
orgasm, especially educated women; the fact that so many women 
were frustrated, and took it out on their husbands and children. More 



and more men in America did feel inadequate, impotent. Many of 
those first generations of career women did miss love and children, 
resented and were resented by the men they competed with. More and 
more American men, women, children were going to mental 
hospitals, clinics, psychiatrists. All this was laid at the doorstep of 
the frustrated American mother, “masculinized” by her education, 
prevented by her insistence on equality and independence from 
finding sexual fulfillment as a woman. 

It all fitted so neatly with the Freudian rationale that no one 
stopped to investigate what these pre-war mothers were really like. 
They were indeed frustrated. But the mothers of the maladjusted 
soldiers, the insecure and impotent postwar males, were not 
independent educated career women, but self-sacrificing, dependent, 
martyred-housewife “moms.” 

In 1940, less than a fourth of American women worked outside 
the home; those who did were for the most part unmarried. A 
minuscule 2.5 per cent of mothers were “career women.” The 
mothers of the GI’s who were 18 to 30 in 1940 were born in the 
nineteenth century, or the early 1900’s, and were grown up before 
American women won the right to vote, or enjoyed the independence, 
the sexual freedom, the educational or the career opportunities of the 
twenties. By and large, these “moms” were neither feminists, nor 
products of feminism, but American women leading the traditional 
feminine life of housewife and mother. Was it really education, 
career dreams, independence, which made the “moms” frustrated, 
and take it out on their children? Even a book that helped build the 
new mystique—Edward Strecker’s Their Mothers’ Sons —co nfi rms 
the fact that the “moms” were neither career women, nor feminists, 
nor used their education, if they had it; they lived for their children, 
they had no interests beyond home, children, family, or their own 
beauty. In fact, they fit the very image of the feminine mystique. 

Here is the “mom” whom Dr. Strecker, as consultant to the 
Surgeon General of the Army and Navy, found guilty in the case 
histories of the vast majority of the 1,825,000 men rejected for 
military service because of psychiatric disorders, the 600,000 
discharged from the Army for neuropsychiatric reasons, and the 
500,000 more who tried to evade the draft—almost 3,000,000 men, 
out of 15,000,000 in the service, who retreated into psychoneurosis, 
often only a few days after induction, because they lacked maturity, 
“the ability to face life, live with others, think for themselves and 



stand on their own two feet.” 


A mom is a woman whose maternal behavior is motivated by 
the seeking of emotional recompense for the buffets which life 
has dealt her own ego. In her relationship with her children, 
every deed and almost every breath are designed unconsciously 
but exclusively to absorb her children emotionally and to bind 
them to her securely. In order to achieve this purpose, she must 
stamp a pattern of immature behavior on her children.... The 
mothers of men and women capable of facing life maturely are 
not apt to be the traditional mom type. More likely mom is 
sweet, doting, self-sacrificing.... takes no end of trouble and 
spares herself no pains in selecting clothes for her grown-up 
children. She supervises the curl of their hair, the selection of 
their friends and companions, their sports, and their social 
attitudes and opinions. By and large she does all their thinking 
for them.... [This domination] is sometimes hard and arbitrary, 
more often soft, persuasive and somewhat devious.... Most 
frequent is the method of indirection in which in some way the 
child is made to feel that mom’s hurt and trying ever so hard to 
conceal that hurt. The soft method is infinitely more successful 
in blocking manifestations of youthful thought and action.... 

The “self-sacrificing” mom when hard-pressed may admit 
hesitatingly that perhaps she does look “played out” and is 
actually a bit tired, but she chirps brightly “What of it?”...The 
implication is that she does not care how she looks or feels, for 
in her heart there is the unselfish joy of service. From dawn until 
late at night she finds her happiness in doing for her children. 
The house belongs to them. It must be “just so” the meals on the 
minute, hot and tempting. Food is available at all hours.... No 
buttons missing from garments in this orderly house. Everything 
is in its proper place. Mom knows where it is. Uncomplainingly, 
gladly, she puts things where they belong after the children have 
strewn them about, here, there, and everywhere....Anything the 
children need or want, mom will cheerfully get for them It is the 
perfect home.... Failing to find a comparable peaceful haven in 
the outside world, it is quite likely that one or more of the brood 
will remain in or return to the happy home, forever enwombed. - 


The “mom” may also be “the pretty addlepate” with her cult of 
beauty, clothing, cosmetics, perfumes, hairdos, diet and exercise, or 
“the pseudo-intellectual who is forever taking courses and attending 
lectures, not seriously studying one subject and informing herself 
thoroughly about it, but one month mental hygiene, the next 
economics, Greek architecture, nursery schools.” These were the 
“moms” of the sons who could not be men at the front or at home, in 
bed or out, because they really wanted to be babies. All these moms 
had one thing in common: 

...the emotional satisfaction, almost repletion, she derives 
from keeping her children paddling about in a kind of 
psychological amniotic fluid rather than letting them swim away 
with the bold and decisive strokes of maturity from the 
emotional maternal womb.... Being immature herself, she 
breeds immaturity in her children and, by and large, they are 
doomed to lives of personal and social insufficiency and 
unhappiness... - 


I quote Dr. Strecker at length because he was, oddly enough, one 
of the psychiatric authorities most frequently cited in the spate of 
postwar articles and speeches condemning American women for their 
lost femininity—and bidding them rush back home again and devote 
their lives to their children. Actually, the moral of Strecker’s cases 
was just the opposite; those immature sons had mothers who devoted 
too much of their lives to their children, mothers who had to keep 
their children babies or they themselves would have no lives at all, 
mothers who never themselves reached or were encouraged to reach 
maturity: “the state or quality of being mature; ripeness, full 
development...independence of thought and action”—the quality of 
being fully human. Which is not quite the same as femininity. 

Facts are swallowed by a mystique in much the same way, I 
guess, as the strange phenomenon by which hamburger eaten by a dog 
becomes dog, and hamburger eaten by a human becomes human. The 
facts of the GI’s neurosis became, in the 1940’s, “proof’ that 
American women had been seduced from feminine fulfillment by an 
education geared to career, independence, equality with men, “self- 
realization at any cost”—even though most of these frustrated women 


were simply housewives. By some fascinating paradox, the massive 
evidence of psychological damage done to boys and girls by 
frustrated mothers who devoted all their days to filling children’s 
needs was twisted by the feminine mystique to a summons to the new 
generation of girls to go back home and devote their days to filling 
children’s needs. 

Nothing made that hamburger more palatable than the early 
Kinsey figures which showed that sexual frustration in women was 
related to their education. Chewed and rechewed was the horrendous 
fact that between 50 and 85 per cent of the college women polled had 
never experienced sexual orgasm, while less than one-fifth of high- 
school educated women reported the same problem. As Modern 
Woman: The Lost Sex interpreted these early Kinsey returns: 

Among women with a grade school education or less, 
complete failure to achieve orgasm diminished toward the 
vanishing point. Dr. Kinsey and his colleagues reported that 
practically 100% full orgastic reaction had been found among 
uneducated Negro women.... The psychosexual rule that begins 
to take form, then, is this: the more educated the woman is, the 
greater chance there is of sexual disorder, more or less 
severe... - 


Nearly a decade went by before publication of the full Kinsey 
report on women, which completely contradicted those earlier 
findings. How many women realize, even now, that Kinsey’s 5,940 
case histories of American women showed that the number of 
females reaching orgasm in marriage, and the number of females 
reaching orgasm nearly 100 per cent of the time, was related to 
education, but the more educated the woman, the greater chance of 
sexual fulfillment. The woman with only a grade-school education 
was more likely never to experience orgasm, while the woman who 
finished college, and who went on to graduate or professional school, 
was far more likely to achieve full orgasm nearly 100 per cent of the 
time. In Kinsey’s words: 

We found that the number of females reaching orgasm within 
any five-year period was rather distinctly higher among those 


with upper educational backgrounds.... In every period of 
marriage, from the first until at least the fifteenth year, a larger 
number of the females in the sample who had more limited 
educational backgrounds had completely failed to respond to 
orgasm in their marital coitus, and a small number of the better 
educated females had so completely failed.... 

These data are not in accord with a preliminary, unpublished 
calculation which we made some years ago. On the basis of a 
smaller sample, and on the basis of a less adequate method of 
calculation, we seemed to find a larger number of the females of 
the lower educational levels responding to orgasm in the marital 
coitus. These data now need correction.. .- 


But the mystique nourished by the early incorrect figures was not 
so easily corrected. 

And then there were the frightening figures and case histories of 
children abandoned and rejected because their mothers worked. How 
many women realize, even now, that the babies in those publicized 
cases, who withered away from lack of maternal affection, were not 
the children of educated, middle-class mothers who left them in 
others’ care certain hours of the day to practice a profession or write 
a poem, or fight a political battle—but truly abandoned children: 
foundlings often deserted at birth by unwed mothers and drunken 
fathers, children who never had a home or tender loving care. 
Headlines were made by any study which implied that working 
mothers were responsible for juvenile delinquency, school 
difficulties or emotional disturbance in their children. Recently a 
psychologist, Dr. Lois Meek Stolz, of Stanford University, analyzed 
all the evidence from such studies. She discovered that at the present 
time, one can say anything —good or bad—about children of 
employed mothers and support the statement by some research 
findings. But there is no definitive evidence that children are less 

happy, healthy, adjusted, because their mothers work.- 

The studies that show working women to be happier, better, more 
mature mothers do not get much publicity. Since juvenile delinquency 
is increasing, and more women work or “are educated for some kind 
of intellectual work,” there is surely a direct cause-and-effect 
relationship, one says. Except that evidence indicates there is not. 


Several years ago, much publicity was given to a study comparing 
matched groups of delinquent and non-delinquent boys. It was found, 
among other things, that there was no more delinquency, or school 
truancy, when the mothers worked regularly than when they were 
housewives. But, spectacular headlines warned, significantly more 
delinquents had mothers who worked irregularly. This finding 
brought guilt and gloom to the educated mothers who had given up 
full-fledged careers, but managed to keep on in their fields by 
working part-time, by free-lancing, or by taking temporary jobs with 
periods at home in between. “Here for years I’ve been purposely 
taking temporary jobs and part-time jobs, trying to arrange my 
working life in the boys’ best interests,” one such mother was quoted 
by the New York Times , “and now it looks as though I’ve been doing 
the worst possible thing!”- 

Actually, this mother, a woman with professional training who 
lived in a comfortable middle-class neighborhood, was equating 
herself with mothers in that study who, it turned out, not only lived in 
poor socio-economic circumstances, but had in many cases been 
juvenile delinquents themselves. And they often had husbands who 
were emotionally disturbed. 

The researchers who did that study suggested that the sons of 
these women had emotional conflicts because the mother was 
motivated to her sporadic work “not so much to supplement family 
income as to escape household and maternal responsibilities.” But 
another specialist, analyzing the same findings, thought the basic 
cause both of the mother’s sporadic employment and the son’s 
delinquency was the emotional instability of both parents. Whatever 
the reason, the situation was in no way comparable to that of most 
educated women who read themselves into it. In fact, as Dr. Stolz 
shows, many studies misinterpreted as “proof’ that women cannot 
combine careers and motherhood actually indicate that, where other 
conditions are equal, the children of mothers who work because they 
want to are less likely to be disturbed, have problems in school, or to 
“lack a sense of personal worth” than housewives’ children. 

The early studies of children of working mothers were done 
in an era when few married women worked, at day nurseries 
which served working mothers who were without husbands due 
to death, divorce or desertion. These studies were done by 


social workers and economists in order to press for such 
reforms as mothers’ pensions. The disturbances and higher death 
rate in such children were not found in studies done in this 
recent decade, when of the millions of married women working, 
only 1 out of 8 was not living with her husband. 

In one such recent study, based on 2,000 mothers, the only 
significant differences were that more housewife-mothers stated 
“the children make me nervous” than working mothers; and the 
housewives seemed to have “more children.” A famous study in 
Chicago which had seemed to show more mothers of 
delinquents were working outside the home, turned out to show 
only that more delinquents come from broken homes. Another 
study of 400 seriously disturbed children (of a school 
population of 16,000) showed that where no broken home was 
involved, three times as many of the disturbed children’s 
mothers were housewives as working mothers. 

Other studies showed that children of working mothers were 
less likely to be either extremely aggressive or extremely 
inhibited, less likely to do poorly in school, or to “lack a sense 
of personal worth” than children of housewives, and that 
mothers who worked were more likely to be “delighted” at 
becoming pregnant, and less likely to suffer conflict over the 
“role of mother” than housewives. 

There also seemed to be a closer and more positive 
relationship to children among working mothers who liked their 
work, than among housewife-mothers or mothers who did not 
like their work. And a study during the thirties of college- 
educated mothers, who are more able to choose work they like, 
showed no adverse effect of their employment on their marital 
and emotional adjustment, or on number or seriousness of 
children’s problems. In general, women who work shared only 
two attributes; they were more likely to have higher education 
and to live in cities.— 


In our own era, however, as droves of educated women have 
become suburban housewives, who among them did not worry that 
their child’s bedwetting, thumbsucking, overeating, refusal to eat, 
withdrawal, lack of friends, inability to be alone, aggressiveness, 
timidity, slow reading, too much reading, lack of discipline, rigidity, 


inhibition, exhibitionism, sexual precociousness, or sexual lack of 
interest was a sign of incipient neurosis. If not actual abnormality or 
actual delinquency, they must be at least signs of parental failure, 
portents of future neurosis. Sometimes they were. Parenthood, and 
especially motherhood, under the Freudian spotlight, had to become a 
full-time job and career if not a religious cult. One false step could 
mean disaster. Without careers, without any commitment other than 
their homes, mothers could devote every moment to their children; 
their full attention could be given to finding signs of incipient 
neurosis—and perhaps to producing it. 

In every case history, of course, you can always find significant 
facts about the mother, especially if you are looking for facts, or 
memories, of those supposedly crucial first five years. In America, 
after all, the mother is always there; she is supposed to be there. Is 
the fact that they are always there, and there only as mothers, 
somehow linked to the neuroses of their children? Many cultures pass 
on their conflicts to children through the mothers, but in the modern 
cultures of the civilized world, not many educate their strongest, 
ablest women to make a career of their own children. 

Not long ago Dr. Spock confessed, a bit uneasily, that Russian 
children, whose mothers usually have some purpose in their lives 
besides motherhood—they work in medicine, science, education, 
industry, government, art—seemed somehow more stable, adjusted, 
mature, than American children, whose full-time mothers do nothing 
but worry about them. Could it be that Russian women are somehow 
better mothers because they have a serious purpose in their own 
lives? At least, said the good Dr. Spock, these mothers are more sure 
of themselves as mothers. They are not, like American mothers, 
dependent on the latest word from the experts, the newest child-care 
fad.— It is clearly a terrible burden on Dr. Spock to have 13,500,000 
mothers so unsure of themselves that they bring up their children 
literally according to his book—and call piteously to him for help 
when the book does not work. 

No headlines marked the growing concern of psychiatrists with 
the problem of “dependence” in American children and grownup 
children. The psychiatrist David Levy, in a very famous study of 
“maternal overprotection,” studied in exhaustive detail twenty 
mothers who had damaged their children to a pathological extent by 
“maternal infantilization, indulgence and overprotection.”— A typical 


case was a twelve-year-old boy who had “infantile temper tantrums 
in his eleventh year when his mother refused to butter his bread for 
him. He still demanded her help in dressing.... He summed up his 
requirements in life very neatly by saying that his mother would 
butter his bread for him until he married, after which his wife would 
do so...” 

All these mothers—according to physiological indexes such as 
menstrual flow, breast milk, and early indications of a “maternal type 
of behavior”—were unusually strong in their feminine or maternal 
instinctual base, if it can be described that way. All but two of the 
twenty, as Dr. Levy himself described it, were responsible, stable 
and aggressive: “the active or aggressive feature of the responsible 
behavior was regarded as a distinctly maternal type of behavior; it 
characterized the lives of 18 of the 20 overprotecting mothers since 
childhood.” In none was there any tinge of unconscious rejection of 
the child or of motherhood. 

What made these twenty strongly maternal women (evidently 
strength, even aggression, is not masculine when a psychiatrist 
considers it part of the maternal instinct) produce such pathologically 
infantile sons? For one thing, the “child was utilized as a means of 
satisfying an abnormal craving for love.” These mothers freshened 
up, put lipstick on when the son was due home from school, as a wife 
for a husband or a girl for her date, because they had no other life 
besides the child. Most, Levy said, had thwarted career ambitions. 
The “maternal overprotection” was actually caused by these mothers’ 
strength, by their basic feminine energy—responsible, stable, active 
and aggressive—producing pathology in the child when the mother 
was blocked from “other channels of expression.” 

Most of these mothers also had dominating mothers and 
submissive fathers of their own, and their husbands had also been 
obedient sons of dominating mothers; in Freudian terms, the 
castrativeness all around was rather extreme. The sons and mothers 
were given intensive psychoanalytical therapy for years, which, it 
was hoped, would break the pathological cycle. But when, some 
years after the original study, research workers checked on these 
women and the children they had pathologically overprotected, the 
results were not quite what was expected. In most cases 
psychotherapy had not been effective. Yet some of the children, 
miraculously, did not become pathological adults; not because of 
therapy, but because by circumstance the mother had acquired an 



interest or activity in her own life and had simply stopped living the 
child’s life for him. In a few other cases, the child survived because, 
through his own ability, he had staked out an area of independence of 
which his mother was not a part. 

Other clues to the real problem of the mother-child relationship in 
America have been seen by social scientists without ever penetrating 
the mystique. A sociologist named Arnold Green almost by accident 
discovered another dimension to the relationship between nurturing 
mother love, or its lack, and neurosis. 

It seems that in the Massachusetts industrial town where Green 
grew up an entire generation was raised under psychological 
conditions which should have been traumatic: conditions of 
irrational, vengeful, even brutal parental authority, and a complete 
lack of “love” between parent and child. The parents, Polish 
immigrants, tried to enforce rigid old-world rules which their 
American children did not respect. The children’s ridicule, anger, 
contempt made the bewildered parents resort to a “vengeful, 
personal, irrational authority which no longer finds support in the 
future hopes and ambitions of the children.” 

In exasperation and fear of losing all control over their 
Americanized youngsters, parents apply the fist and whip rather 
indiscriminately. The sound of blows, screams, howls, 
vexations, wails of torment and hatred are so commonplace 
along the rows of dilapidated millhouses that the passersby pay 
them scant attention.— 


Surely, here were the seeds of future neuroses, as all good post- 
Freudian parents in America understand them. But to Green’s 
amazement, when he went back and checked as a sociologist on the 
neuroses which according to the book must surely be flourishing, he 
found no known case of Army rejection because of psychoneurosis in 
the local Polish community, and in the overt behavior of an entire 
generation in the village “no expression of anxiety, guilty feelings, 
rigidity of response, repressed hostility—the various symptoms 
described as characteristic of the basic neurotic character.” Green 
wondered. Why didn’t those children become neurotic, why weren’t 
they destroyed by that brutal, irrational parental authority? 


They had none of that constant and watchful nurturing love that is 
urged on middle-class mothers by the child psychologizers; their 
mothers, like their fathers, worked all day in the factory; they had 
been left in the care of older sisters or brothers, had run free in fields 
and woods, had avoided their parents wherever possible. In these 
families, stress was placed upon work, rather than personal 
sentiment: “respect, not love is the tie that binds.” Demonstrations of 
affection were not altogether lacking, Green said, “but they had little 
in common with the definitions of parent-child love found in the 
middle-class women’s magazines.” 

It occurred to the sociologist that perhaps the very absence of this 
omnipresent nurturing mother love might explain why these children 
did not suffer the neurotic symptoms so commonly found in the sons 
of middle-class parents. The Polish parents’ authority, however 
brutal and irrational, was “external to the core of the self,” as Green 
put it. The Polish parents did not have the technique or opportunity to 
“absorb the personality of the child.” Perhaps, Green suggested, 
“lack of love” and “irrational authority” do not in themselves cause 
neurosis, but only within a certain context of “personality 
absorption”—the physical and emotional blanketing of the child 
which brings about that slavish dependence upon the parents found 
among children of the native white American urban college-educated 
middle class. 

Is “lack of love” the cause of neurosis, or the middle-class 
parental nurturing which “absorbs” the child’s independent self, and 
creates in him an excessive need for love? Psychoanalysts had 
always concentrated on the seeds of neuroses; Green wanted to “find 
out what there is to being a modern middle-class parent that fertilizes 
the soil of the child’s neurosis, however the individual seed is 
planted.” 

As usual, the arrow pointed unerringly to the mother. But Green 
was not concerned with helping the modern American mother adjust 
to her role; on the contrary, he found that she lacked any real “role” 
as a woman in modern society. 

She enters marriage and perhaps bears a child with no 
definite role and series of functions, as formerly.... She feels 
inferior to man because comparatively she has been and is more 
restricted. The extent of the actual emancipation of women has 
been commonly exaggerated.... 



Through a “good” marriage the middle-class girl attains far 
more status than is possible through a career of her own. But the 
period of phantom dalliance with a career, or an embarkation 
upon one, leave her ill-fitted for the drudgery of housecleaning, 
diapers, and the preparation of meals.... The mother has little to 
do, in or out of the home; she is her single child’s sole 
companion. Modern “scientific child care” enforces a constant 
supervision and diffused worrying over the child’s health, eating 
spinach, and ego development; this is complicated by the fact 
that much energy is spent forcing early walking, toilet-training, 
talking, because in an intensively competitive milieu middle- 
class parents from the day of birth are constantly comparing 
their own child’s development with that of the neighbors’ 
children. 


Perhaps, Green speculates, middle-class mothers 

...have made “love” of supreme importance in their relation 
to the child, theirs for him and his for them, partly because of the 
love-complex of our time, which is particularly ramified within 
the middle class, and partly as a compensation for the many 
sacrifices they have made for the child. The child’s need for 
love is experienced precisely because he has been conditioned 
to need it...conditioned to a slavish emotional dependence.... 
Not the need for parental love, but the constant threat of its 
withdrawal after the child has been conditioned to the need, lies 
at the root of the most characteristic modern neuroses; Mamma 
won’t like you if you don’t eat your spinach, or stop dribbling 
your milk, or get down from that davenport. To the extent that a 
child’s personality has been absorbed, he will be thrown into a 
panic by this sort of treatment.... In such a child, a disapproving 
glance may produce more terror—than a twenty-minute lashing 
in little Stanislaus Wojcik. 


Green was only concerned with mothers in terms of their effect on 
their sons. But it occurred to him that “personality absorption” alone 
cannot, after all, explain neurosis. Because otherwise, he says, 
middle-class women of the previous generation would all have 



suffered such neuroses—and nobody recorded such suffering in those 
women. Certainly the personality of the middle-class girl of the late 
nineteenth century was “absorbed” by her parents, by the demands of 
“love” and unquestioning obedience. However, “the rate of neurosis 
under those conditions was probably not too high,” the sociologist 
concludes, because even though the woman’s own personality was 
“absorbed,” it was consistently absorbed “within a role which 
changed relatively slightly from childhood into adolescence, 
courtship, and finally into marriage” she never could be her own 
person. 

The modern middle-class boy, on the other hand, is forced to 
compete with others, to achieve—which demands a certain degree of 
independence, firmness of purpose, aggressiveness, self-assertion. 
Thus, in the boy, the mother-nourished need for everyone to love him, 
the inability to erect his own values and purposes is neurotic, but not 
in the girl. 

It is provocative, this speculation made by a sociologist in 1946, 
but it never penetrated far beyond the inner circles of social theory, 
never permeated the bulwarks of the feminine mystique, despite 
increasing national awareness that something was wrong with 
American mothers. Even this sociologist, who managed to get behind 
the mystique and see children in terms other than their need for more 
mother love, was concerned only with the problem of the sons. But 
was not the real implication that the role of the middle-class 
American housewife forces many a mother to smother, absorb, the 
personality of both her sons and daughters? Many saw the tragic 
waste of American sons who were made incapable of achievement, 
individual values, independent action; but they did not see as tragic 
the waste of the daughters, or of the mothers to whom it happened 
generations earlier. If a culture does not expect human maturity from 
its women, it does not see its lack as a waste, or as a possible cause 
of neurosis or conflict. The insult, the real reflection on our culture’s 
definition of the role of women, is that as a nation we only noticed 
that something was wrong with women when we saw its effects on 
their sons. 

Is it surprising that we misunderstood what was really wrong? 
How could we understand it, in the static terms of functionalism and 
adjustment? Educators and sociologists applauded when the 
personality of the middle-class girl was “consistently” absorbed 
from childhood through adulthood by her “role as woman.” Long live 



the role, if adjustment is served. The waste of a human self was not 
considered a phenomenon to be studied in women—only the 
frustration caused by “cultural inconsistencies in role-conditioning,” 
as the great social scientist Ruth Benedict described the plight of 
American women. Even women themselves, who felt the misery, the 
helplessness of their lack of self, did not understand the feeling; it 
became the problem that has no name. And in their shame and guilt 
they turned again to their children to escape the problem. So the 
circle completes itself, from mother to sons and daughters, generation 
after generation. 

The unremitting attack on women which has become an American 
preoccupation in recent years might also stem from the same escapist 
motives that sent men and women back to the security of the home. 
Mother love is said to be sacred in America, but with all the 
reverence and lip service she is paid, mom is a pretty safe target, no 
matter how correctly or incorrectly her failures are interpreted. No 
one has ever been blacklisted or fired for an attack on “the American 
woman.” Apart from the psychological pressures from mothers or 
wives, there have been plenty of nonsexual pressures in the America 
of the last decade—the compromising, never-ceasing competition, the 
anonymous and often purposeless work in the big organization—that 
also kept a man from feeling like a man. Safer to take it out on his 
wife and his mother than to recognize a failure in himself or in the 
sacred American way of life. The men were not always kidding when 
they said their wives were lucky to be able to stay home all day. It 
was also soothing to rationalize the rat race by telling themselves that 
they were in it “for the wife and kids.” And so men re-created their 
own childhood in suburbia, and made mothers of their wives. Men 
fell for the mystique without a murmur of dissent. It promised them 
mothers for the rest of their lives, both as a reason for their being and 
as an excuse for their failures. Is it so strange that boys who grow up 
with too much mother love become men who can never get enough? 

But why did women sit still for this barrage of blame? When a 
culture has erected barrier after barrier against women as separate 
selves; when a culture has erected legal, political, social, economic 
and educational barriers to women’s own acceptance of maturity— 
even after most of those barriers are down it is still easier for a 
woman to seek the sanctuary of the home. It is easier to live through 
her husband and children than to make a road of her own in the 



world. For she is the daughter of that same mom who made it so hard 
for girl as well as boy to grow up. And freedom is a frightening thing. 
It is frightening to grow up finally and be free of passive dependence. 
Why should a woman bother to be anything more than a wife and 
mother if all the forces of her culture tell her she doesn’t have to, will 
be better off not to, grow up? 

And so the American woman made her mistaken choice. She ran 
back home again to live by sex alone, trading in her individuality for 
security. Her husband was drawn in after her, and the door was shut 
against the outside world. They began to live the pretty lie of the 
feminine mystique, but could either of them really believe it? She 
was, after all, an American woman, an irreversible product of a 
culture that stops just short of giving her a separate identity. He was, 
after all, an American man whose respect for individuality and 
freedom of choice are his nation’s pride. They went to school 
together; he knows who she is. Does his meek willingness to wax the 
floor and wash the dishes when he comes home tired on the 6:55 hide 
from both their guilty awareness of the reality behind the pretty lie? 
What keeps them believing it, in spite of the warning signs that have 
cropped up all over the suburban lot? What keeps the women home? 
What force in our culture is strong enough to write “Occupation: 
housewife” so large that all the other possibilities for women have 
been almost obscured? 

Powerful forces in this nation must be served by those pretty 
domestic pictures that stare at us everywhere, forbidding a woman to 
use her own abilities in the world. The preservation of the feminine 
mystique in this sense could have implications that are not sexual at 
all. When one begins to think about it, America depends rather 
heavily on women’s passive dependence, their femininity. 
Femininity, if one still wants to call it that, makes American women a 
target and a victim of the sexual sell. 



The Sexual Sell 


Some months ago, as I began to fit together the puzzle of women’s 
retreat to home, I had the feeling I was missing something. I could 
trace the routes by which sophisticated thought circled back on itself 
to perpetuate an obsolete image of femininity; I could see how that 
image meshed with prejudice and misinterpreted frustrations to hide 
the emptiness of “Occupation: housewife” from women themselves. 

But what powers it all? If, despite the nameless desperation of so 
many American housewives, despite the opportunities open to all 
women now, so few have any purpose in life other than to be a wife 
and mother, somebody, something pretty powerful must be at work. 
The energy behind the feminist movement was too dynamic merely to 
have trickled dry; it must have been turned off, diverted, by 
something more powerful than that underestimated power of women. 

There are certain facts of life so obvious and mundane that one 
never talks about them. Only the child blurts out: “Why do people in 
books never go to the toilet?” Why is it never said that the really 
crucial function, the really important role that women serve as 
housewives is to buy more things for the house. In all the talk of 
femininity and woman’s role, one forgets that the real business of 
America is business. But the perpetuation of housewifery, the growth 
of the feminine mystique, makes sense (and dollars) when one 
realizes that women are the chief customers of American business. 
Somehow, somewhere, someone must have figured out that women 
will buy more things if they are kept in the underused, nameless- 
yearning, energy-to-get-rid-of state of being housewives. 

I have no idea how it happened. Decision-making in industry is 
not as simple, as rational, as those who believe the conspiratorial 
theories of history would have it. I am sure the heads of General 
Foods, and General Electric, and General Motors, and Macy’s and 
Gimbel’s and the assorted directors of all the companies that make 
detergents and electric mixers, and red stoves with rounded corners, 
and synthetic furs, and waxes, and hair coloring, and patterns for 



home sewing and home carpentry, and lotions for detergent hands, 
and bleaches to keep the towels pure white, never sat down around a 
mahogany conference table in a board room on Madison Avenue or 
Wall Street and voted on a motion: “Gentlemen, I move, in the 
interests of all, that we begin a concerted fifty-billion-dollar 
campaign to stop this dangerous movement of American women out 
of the home. We’ve got to keep them housewives, and let’s not forget 
it.” 

A thinking vice-president says: “Too many women getting 
educated. Don’t want to stay home. Unhealthy. If they all get to be 
scientists and such, they won’t have time to shop. But how can we 
keep them home? They want careers now.” 

“We’ll liberate them to have careers at home,” the new executive 
with horn-rimmed glasses and the Ph.D. in psychology suggests. 
“We’ll make home-making creative.” 

Of course, it didn’t happen quite like that. It was not an economic 
conspiracy directed against women. It was a byproduct of our general 
confusion lately of means with ends; just something that happened to 
women when the business of producing and selling and investing in 
business for profit—which is merely the way our economy is 
organized to serve man’s needs efficiently—began to be confused 
with the purpose of our nation, the end of life itself. No more 
surprising, the subversion of women’s lives in America to the ends of 
business, than the subversion of the sciences of human behavior to the 
business of deluding women about their real needs. It would take a 
clever economist to figure out what would keep our affluent economy 
going if the housewife market began to fall off, just as an economist 
would have to figure out what to do if there were no threat of war. 

It is easy to see why it happened. I learned how it happened when 
I went to see a man who is paid approximately a million dollars a 
year for his professional services in manipulating the emotions of 
American women to serve the needs of business. This particular man 
got in on the ground floor of the hidden-persuasion business in 1945 
and kept going. The headquarters of his institute for motivational 
manipulation is a baronial mansion in upper Westchester. The walls 
of a ballroom two stories high are filled with steel shelves holding a 
thousand-odd studies for business and industry, 300,000 individual 
“depth interviews,” mostly with American housewives. - 

He let me see what I wanted, said I could use anything that was 
not confidential to a specific company. Nothing there for anyone to 


hide, to feel guilty about—only, in page after page of those depth 
studies, a shrewd cheerful awareness of the empty, purposeless, 
uncreative, even sexually joyless lives that most Amercan 
housewives lead. In his own unabashed terms, this most helpful of 
hidden persuaders showed me the function served by keeping 
American women housewives—the reservoir that their lack of 
identity, lack of purpose, creates, to be manipulated into dollars at 
the point of purchase. 

Properly manipulated (“if you are not afraid of that word,” he 
said), American housewives can be given the sense of identity, 
purpose, creativity, the self-realization, even the sexual joy they lack 
—by the buying of things. I suddenly realized the significance of the 
boast that women wield seventy-five per cent of the purchasing 
power in America. I suddenly saw American women as victims of 
that ghastly gift, that power at the point of purchase. The insights he 
shared with me so liberally revealed many things.... 

The dilemma of business was spelled out in a survey made in 1945 
for the publisher of a leading women’s magazine on the attitudes of 
women toward electrical appliances. The message was considered of 
interest to all the companies that, with the war about to end, were 
going to have to make consumer sales take the place of war contracts. 
It was a study of “the psychology of housekeeping” “a woman’s 
attitude toward housekeeping appliances cannot be separated from 
her attitude toward homemaking in general,” it warned. 

On the basis of a national sample of 4,500 wives (middle-class, 
high-school or college-educated), American women were divided 
into three categories: “The True Housewife Type,” “The Career 
Woman,” and “The Balanced Homemaker.” While 51 per cent of the 
women then fitted “The True Housewife Type” (“From the 
psychological point of view, housekeeping is this woman’s 
dominating interest. She takes the utmost pride and satisfaction in 
maintaining a comfortable and well-run home for her family. 
Consciously or subconsciously, she feels that she is indispensable 
and that no one else can take over her job. She has little, if any, 
desire for a position outside the home, and if she has one it is through 
force or circumstances or necessity”), it was apparent that this group 
was diminishing, and probably would continue to do so as new 
fields, interests, education were now open to women. 

The largest market for appliances, however, was this “True 



Housewife”—though she had a certain “reluctance” to accept new 
devices that had to be recognized and overcome. (“She may even fear 
that they [appliances] will render unnecessary the old-fashioned way 
of doing things that has always suited her.”) After all, housework was 
the justification for her whole existence. (“I don’t think there is any 
way to make housework easier for myself,” one True Housewife 
said, “because I don’t believe that a machine can take the place of 
hard work.”) 

The second type—The Career Woman or Would-Be Career 
Woman—was a minority, but an extremely “unhealthy” one from the 
sellers’ standpoint; advertisers were warned that it would be to their 
advantage not to let this group get any larger. For such women, though 
not necessarily job-holders, “do not believe that a woman’s place is 
primarily in the home.” (“Many in this group have never actually 
worked, but their attitude is: ‘I think housekeeping is a horrible waste 
of time. If my youngsters were old enough and I were free to leave 
the house, I would use my time to better advantage. If my family’s 
meals and laundry could be taken care of, I would be delighted to go 
out and get a job.’”) The point to bear in mind regarding career 
women, the study said, is that, while they buy modern appliances, 
they are not the ideal type of customer. They are too critical. 

The third type—“The Balanced Homemaker”—is “from the 
market standpoint, the ideal type.” She has some outside interests, or 
has held a job before turning exclusively to homemaking; she “readily 
accepts” the help mechanical appliances can give—but “does not 
expect them to do the impossible” because she needs to use her own 
executive ability “in managing a well-run household.” 

The moral of the study was explicit: “Since the Balanced 
Homemaker represents the market with the greatest future potential, it 
would be to the advantage of the appliance manufacturer to make 
more and more women aware of the desirability of belonging to this 
group. Educate them through advertising that it is possible to have 
outside interests and become alert to wider intellectual influences 
(without becoming a Career Woman). The art of good homemaking 
should be the goal of every normal woman.” 

The problem—which, if recognized at that time by one hidden 
persuader for the home-appliance industry, was surely recognized by 
others with products for the home—was that “a whole new 
generation of women is being educated to do work outside the home. 
Furthermore, an increased desire for emancipation is evident.” The 



solution, quite simply, was to encourage them to be “modern” 
housewives. The Career or Would-Be Career Woman who frankly 
dislikes cleaning, dusting, ironing, washing clothes, is less interested 
in a new wax, a new soap powder. Unlike “The True Housewife” 
and “The Balanced Homemaker” who prefer to have sufficient 
appliances and do the housework themselves, the Career Woman 
would “prefer servants—housework takes too much time and 
energy.” She buys appliances, however, whether or not she has 
servants, but she is “more likely to complain about the service they 
give,” and to be “harder to sell.” 

It was too late—impossible—to turn these modern could-or- 
would-be career women back into True Housewives, but the study 
pointed out, in 1945, the potential for Balanced Housewifery—the 
home career. Let them “want to have their cake and eat it too...save 
time, have more comfort, avoid dirt and disorder, have mechanized 
supervision, yet not want to give up the feeling of personal 
achievement and pride in a well-run household, which comes from 
‘doing it yourself.’ As one young housewife said: ‘It’s nice to be 
modern—it’s like running a factory in which you have all the latest 
machinery.’” 

But it was not an easy job, either for business or advertisers. New 
gadgets that were able to do almost all the housework crowded the 
market; increased ingenuity was needed to give American women that 
“feeling of achievement,” and yet keep housework their main purpose 
in life. Education, independence, growing individuality, everything 
that made them ready for other purposes had constantly to be 
countered, channeled back to the home. 

The manipulator’s services became increasingly valuable. In later 
surveys, he no longer interviewed professional women; they were not 
at home during the day. The women in his samples were deliberately 
True or Balanced Housewives, the new suburban housewives. 
Household and consumer products are, after all, geared to women; 
seventy-five per cent of all consumer advertising budgets is spent to 
appeal to women; that is, to housewives, the women who are 
available during the day to be interviewed, the women with the time 
for shopping. Naturally, his depth interviews, projective tests, “living 
laboratories,” were designed to impress his clients, but more often 
than not they contained the shrewd insights of a skilled social 
scientist, insights that could be used with profit. 

His clients were told they had to do something about this growing 



need of American women to do creative work—“the major 
unfulfilled need of the modern housewife.” He wrote in one report, 
for example: 

Every effort must be made to sell X Mix, as a base upon 
which the woman’s creative effort is used. 

The appeal should emphasize the fact that X Mix aids the 
woman in expressing her creativity because it takes the drudgery 
away. At the same time, stress should be laid upon the cooking 
manipulations, the fun that goes with them, permitting you to feel 
that X Mix baking is real baking. 


But the dilemma again: how to make her spend money on the mix 
that takes some of the drudgery out of baking by telling her “she can 
utilize her energy where it really counts”—and yet keep her from 
being “too busy to bake”? (“I don’t use the mix because I don’t do 
any baking at all. It’s too much trouble. I live in a sprawled-out 
apartment and what with keeping it clean and looking after my child 
and my part-time job, I don’t have time for baking.”) What to do 
about their “feeling of disappointment” when the biscuits come out of 
the oven, and they’re really only bread and there is no feeling of 
creative achievement? (“Why should I bake my own biscuits when 
there are so many good things on the market that just need to be 
heated up? It just doesn’t make any sense at all to go through all the 
trouble of mixing your own and then greasing the tin and baking 
them.”) What to do when the woman doesn’t get the feeling her 
mother got, when the cake had to be made from scratch? (“The way 
my mother made them, you had to sift the flour yourself and add the 
eggs and the butter and you knew you’d really made something you 
could be proud of.”) 

The problem can be handled, the report assured: 

By using X Mix the woman can prove herself as a wife and 
mother, not only by baking, but by spending more time with her 
family.... Of course, it must also be made clear that home-baked 
foods are in every way preferable to bakery-shop foods... 



Above all, give X Mix “a therapeutic value” by downplaying the 
easy recipes, emphasizing instead “the stimulating effort of baking.” 
From an advertising viewpoint, this means stressing that “with X Mix 
in the home, you will be a different woman.. .a happier woman.” 

Further, the client was told that a phrase in his ad “and you make 
that cake the easiest, laziest way there is” evoked a “negative 
response” in American housewives—it hit too close to their 
“underlying guilt.” (“Since they never feel that they are really 
exerting sufficient effort, it is certainly wrong to tell them that baking 
with X Mix is the lazy way.”) Supposing, he suggested, that this 
devoted wife and mother behind the kitchen stove, anxiously 
preparing a cake or pie for her husband or children “is simply 
indulging her own hunger for sweets.” The very fact that baking is 
work for the housewife helps her dispel any doubts that she might 
have about her real motivations. 

But there are even ways to manipulate the housewives’ guilt, the 
report said: 

It might be possible to suggest through advertising that not to 
take advantage of all 12 uses of X Mix is to limit your efforts to 
give pleasure to your family. A transfer of guilt might be 
achieved. Rather than feeling guilty about using X Mix for 
dessert food, the woman would be made to feel guilty if she 
doesn’t take advantage of this opportunity to give her family 12 
different and delicious treats. “Don’t waste your skill; don’t 
limit yourself.” 


By the mid-fifties, the surveys reported with pleasure that the 
Career Woman (“the woman who clamored for equality—almost for 
identity in every sphere of life, the woman who reacted to ‘domestic 
slavery’ with indignation and vehemence”) was gone, replaced by the 
“less worldly, less sophisticated” woman whose activity in PTA 
gives her “broad contacts with the world outside her home,” but who 
“finds in housework a medium of expression for her femininity and 
individuality.” She’s not like the old-fashioned self-sacrificing 
housewife; she considers herself the equal of man. But she still feels 
“lazy, neglectful, haunted by guilt feelings” because she doesn’t have 
enough work to do. The advertiser must manipulate her need for a 
“feeling of creativeness” into the buying of his product. 



After an initial resistance, she now tends to accept instant 
coffee, frozen foods, precooked foods, and labor-saving items 
as part of her routine. But she needs a justification and she finds 
it in the thought that “by using frozen foods I’m freeing myself to 
accomplish other important tasks as a modern mother and wife.” 

Creativeness is the modern woman’s dialectical answer to 
the problem of her changed position in the household. Thesis: 
I’m a housewife. Antithesis: I hate drudgery. Synthesis: I’m 
creative! 

This means essentially that even though the housewife may 
buy canned food, for instance, and thus save time and effort, she 
doesn’t let it go at that. She has a great need for “doctoring up” 
the can and thus prove her personal participation and her 
concern with giving satisfaction to her family. 

The feeling of creativeness also serves another purpose: it is 
an outlet for the liberated talents, the better taste, the freer 
imagination, the greater initiative of the modern woman. It 
permits her to use at home all the faculties that she would 
display in an outside career. 

The yearning for creative opportunities and moments is a 
major aspect of buying motivations. 


The only trouble, the surveys warned, is that she “tries to use her 
own mind and her own judgment. She is fast getting away from 
judging by collective or majority standards. She is developing 
independent standards.” (“Never mind the neighbors. I don’t want to 
‘live up’ to them or compare myself to them at every turn.”) She can’t 
always be reached now with “keep up with the Joneses”—the 
advertiser must appeal to her own need to live. 

Appeal to this thirst.... Tell her that you are adding more 
zest, more enjoyment to her life, that it is within her reach now 
to taste new experiences and that she is entitled to taste these 
experiences. Even more positively, you should convey that you 
are giving her “lessons in living.” 


“House cleaning should be tun,” the manufacturer of a certain 
cleaning device was advised. Even though his product was, perhaps, 



less efficient than the vacuum cleaner, it let the housewife use more 
of her own energy in the work. Further, it let the housewife have the 
illusion that she has become “a professional, an expert in determining 
which cleaning tools to use for specific jobs.” 

This professionalization is a psychological defense of the 
housewife against being a general “cleaner-upper” and menial 
servant for her family in a day and age of general work 
emancipation. 

The role of expert serves a two-fold emotional function: (1) 
it helps the housewife achieve status, and (2) she moves beyond 
the orbit of her home, into the world of modern science in her 
search for new and better ways of doing things. 

As a result, there has never been a more favorable 
psychological climate for household appliances and products. 
The modern housewife...is actually aggressive in her efforts to 
find those household products which, in her expert opinion, 
really meet her need. This trend accounts for the popularity of 
different waxes and polishes for different materials in the home, 
for the growing use of floor polishers, and for the variety of 
mops and cleaning implements for floors and walls. 


The difficulty is to give her the “sense of achievement” of “ego 
enhancement” she has been persuaded to seek in the housewife 
“profession,” when, in actuality, “her time-consuming task, 
housekeeping, is not only endless, it is a task for which society hires 
the lowliest, least-trained, most trod-upon individuals and groups.... 
Anyone with a strong enough back (and a small enough brain) can do 
these menial chores.” But even this difficulty can be manipulated to 
sell her more things: 

One of the ways that the housewife raises her own prestige 
as a cleaner of her home is through the use of specialized 
products for specialized tasks.... 

When she uses one product for washing clothes, a second for 
dishes, a third for walls, a fourth for floors, a fifth for Venetian 
blinds, etc., rather than an all-purpose cleaner, she feels less 
like an unskilled laborer, more like an engineer, an expert. 



A second way of raising her own stature is to “do things my 
way”—to establish an expert’s role for herself by creating her 
own “tricks of the trade.” For example, she may “always put a 
bit of bleach in all my washing—even colored, to make them 
really clean!” 


Help her to “justify her menial task by building up her role as the 
protector of her family—the killer of millions of microbes and 
germs,” this report advised. “Emphasize her kingpin role in the 
family...help her be an expert rather than a menial worker...make 
housework a matter of knowledge and skill, rather than a matter of 
brawn and dull, unremitting effort.” An effective way of doing this is 
to bring out a new product. For, it seems, there’s a growing wave of 
housewives “who look forward to new products which not only 
decrease their daily work load, but actually engage their emotional 
and intellectual interest in the world of scientific development 
outside the home.” 

One gasps in admiration at the ingenuity of it all—the housewife 
can participate in science itself just by buying something new—or 
something old that has been given a brand new personality. 

Besides increasing her professional status, a new cleaning 
appliance or product increases a woman’s feeling of economic 
security and luxury, just as a new automobile does for a man. 
This was reported by 28 per cent of the respondents, who 
agreed with this particular sentiment: “I like to try out new 
things. I’ve just started to use a new liquid detergent—and 
somehow it makes me feel like a queen.” 


The question of letting the woman use her mind and even 
participate in science through housework is, however, not without its 
drawbacks. Science should not relieve housewives of too much 
drudgery; it must concentrate instead on creating the illusion of that 
sense of achievement that housewives seem to need. 

To prove this point, 250 housewives were given a depth test: they 
were asked to choose among four imaginary methods of cleaning. The 
first was a completely automatic dust-and dirt-removal system which 
operated continuously like a home-heating system The second, the 



housewife had to press a button to start. The third was portable; she 
had to carry it around and point it at an area to remove the dirt. The 
fourth was a brand new, modern object with which she could sweep 
the dirt away herself. The housewives spoke up in favor of this last 
appliance. If it “appears new, modern” she would rather have the one 
that lets her work herself, this report said. “One compelling reason is 
her desire to be a participant, not just a button-pusher.” As one 
housewife remarked, “As for some magical push-button cleaning 
system, well, what would happen to my exercise, my feeling of 
accomplishment, and what would I do with my mornings?” 

This fascinating study incidentally revealed that a certain 
electronic cleaning appliance—long considered one of our great 
labor-savers—actually made “housekeeping more difficult than it 
need be.” From the response of eighty per cent of those housewives, 
it seemed that once a woman got this appliance going, she “felt 
compelled to do cleaning that wasn’t really necessary.” The 
electronic appliance actually dictated the extent and type of cleaning 
to be done. 

Should the housewife then be encouraged to go back to that simple 
cheap sweeper that let her clean only as much as she felt necessary? 
No, said the report, of course not. Simply give that old-fashioned 
sweeper the “status” of the electronic appliance as a “labor-saving 
necessity” for the modern housewife “and then indicate that the 
modern homemaker would, naturally, own both.” 

No one, not even the depth researchers, denied that housework 
was endless, and its boring repetition just did not give that much 
satisfaction, did not require that much vaunted expert knowledge. But 
the endlessness of it all was an advantage from the seller’s point of 
view. The problem was to keep at bay the underlying realization 
which was lurking dangerously in “thousands of depth interviews 
which we have conducted for dozens of different kinds of 
housecleaning products”—the realization that, as one housewife said, 
“It stinks! I have to do it, so I do it. It’s a necessary evil, that’s all.” 
What to do? For one thing, put out more and more products, make the 
directions more complicated, make it really necessary for the 
housewife to “be an expert.” (Washing clothes, the report advised, 
must become more than a matter of throwing clothes into a machine 
and pouring in soap. Garments must be carefully sorted, one load 
given treatment A, a second load treatment B, some washed by hand. 
The housewife can then “take great pride in knowing just which of the 



arsenal of products to use on each occasion.”) 

Capitalize, the report continued, on housewives’ “guilt over the 
hidden dirt” so she will rip her house to shreds in a “deep cleaning” 
operation, which will give her a “sense of completeness” for a few 
weeks. (“The times of thorough cleaning are the points at which she 
is most willing to try new products and ‘deep clean’ advertising 
holds out the promise of completion.”) 

The seller must also stress the joys of completing each separate 
task, remembering that “nearly all housekeepers, even those who 
thoroughly detest their job, paradoxically find escape from their 
endless fate by accepting it—by ‘throwing myself into it,’ as she 
says.” 


Losing herself in her work—surrounded by all the 
implements, creams, powders, soaps, she forgets for a time how 
soon she will have to redo the task. In other words, a housewife 
permits herself to forget for a moment how rapidly the sink will 
again fill with dishes, how quickly the floor will again be dirty, 
and she seizes the moment of completion of a task as a moment 
of pleasure as pure as if she had just finished a masterpiece of 
art which would stand as a monument to her credit forever. 


This is the kind of creative experience the seller of things can 
give the housewife. In one housewife’s own words: 

I don’t like housework at all. I’m a lousy houseworker. But 
once in a while I get pepped up and I’ll really go to town... 
When I have some new kind of cleaning material—like when 
Glass Wax first came out or those silicone furniture polishes—I 
got a real kick out of it, and I went through the house shining 
everything. I like to see the things shine. I feel so good when I 
see the bathroom just glistening. 


And so the manipulator advised: 

Identify your product with the physical and spiritual rewards 
she derives from the almost religious feeling of basic security 



provided by her home. Talk about her “light, happy, peaceful 
feelings” her “deep sense of achievement.”... But remember she 
doesn’t really want praise for the sake of praise...also 
remember that her mood is not simply “gay.” She is tired and a 
bit solemn. Superficially cheerful adjectives or colors will not 
reflect her feelings. She will react much more favorably to 
simple, warm and sincere messages. 


In the fifties came the revolutionary discovery of the teenage 
market. Teenagers and young marrieds began to figure prominently in 
the surveys. It was discovered that young wives, who had only been 
to high school and had never worked, were more “insecure,” less 
independent, easier to sell. These young people could be told that, by 
buying the right things, they could achieve middle-class status, 
without work or study. The keep-up-with-the-Joneses sell would 
work again; the individuality and independence which American 
women had been getting from education and work outside the home 
was not such a problem with the teenage brides. In fact, the surveys 
said, if the pattern of “happiness through things” could be established 
when these women were young enough, they could be safely 
encouraged to go out and get a part-time job to help their husbands 
pay for all the things they buy. The main point now was to convince 
the teenagers that “happiness through things” is no longer the 
prerogative of the rich or the talented; it can be enjoyed by all, if they 
learn “the right way,” the way the others do it, if they learn the 
embarrassment of being different. 

In the words of one of these reports: 

49 per cent of the new brides were teenagers, and more girls 
marry at the age of 18 than at any other age. This early family 
formation yields a larger number of young people who are on 
the threshold of their own responsibilities and decision-making 
in purchases... 

But the most important fact is of a psychological nature: 
Marriage today is not only the culmination of a romantic 
attachment; more consciously and more clear-headedly than in 
the past, it is also a decision to create a partnership in 
establishing a comfortable home, equipped with a great number 
of desirable products. 



In talking to scores of young couples and brides-to-be, we 
found that, as a rule, their conversations and dreams centered to 
a very large degree around their future homes and their 
furnishings, around shopping “to get an idea,” around discussing 
the advantages and disadvantages of various products.... 

The modern bride is deeply convinced of the unique value of 
married love, of the possibilities of finding real happiness in 
marriage and of fulfilling her personal destiny in it and through 
it. 

But the engagement period today is a romantic, dreamy and 
heady period only to a limited extent. It is probably safe to say 
that the period of engagement tends to be a rehearsal of the 
material duties and responsibilities of marriage. While waiting 
for the nuptials, couples work hard, put aside money for definite 
purchases, or even begin buying on an installment plan. 

Wliat is the deeper meaning of this new combination of an 
almost religious belief in the importance and beauty of married 
life on the one hand, and the product-centered outlook, on the 
other?... 

The modern bride seeks as a conscious goal that which in 
many cases her grandmother saw as a blind fate and her mother 
as slavery: to belong to a man to have a home and children of 
her own, to choose among all possible careers the career of 
wife-mother-homemaker. 


The fact that the young bride now seeks in her marriage complete 
“fulfillment,” that she now expects to “prove her own worth” and 
find all the “fundamental meanings” of life in her home, and to 
participate through her home in “the interesting ideas of the modern 
era, the future,” has enormous “practical applications,” advertisers 
were told. For all these meanings she seeks in her marriage, even her 
fear that she will be “left behind,” can be channeled into the purchase 
of products. For example, a manufacturer of sterling silver, a product 
that is very difficult to sell, was told: 

Reassure her that only with sterling can she be fully secure in 
her new role...it symbolizes her success as a modern woman. 
Above all, dramatize the fun and pride that derive from the job 
of cleaning silver. Stimulate the pride of achievement. “How 



much pride you get from the brief task that’s so much fun.. 


Concentrate on the very young teenage girls, this report further 
advised. The young ones will want what “the others” want, even if 
their mothers don’t. (“As one of our teenagers said: ‘All the gang has 
started their own sets of sterling. We’re real keen about it—compare 
patterns and go through the ads together. My own family never had 
any sterling and they think I’m showing off when I spend my money 
on it—they think plated’s just as good. But the kids think they’re way 
off base.’”) Get them in schools, churches, sororities, social clubs; 
get them through home-economics teachers, group leaders, teenage 
TV programs and teenage advertising. “This is the big market of the 
future and word-of-mouth advertising, along with group pressure, is 
not only the most potent influence but in the absence of tradition, a 
most necessary one.” 

As for the more independent older wife, that unfortunate tendency 
to use materials that require little care—stainless steel, plastic 
dishes, paper napkins—can be met by making her feel guilty about the 
effects on the children. (“As one young wife told us: ‘I’m out of the 
house all day long, so I can’t prepare and serve meals the way I want 
to. I don’t like it that way—my husband and the children deserve a 
better break. Sometimes I think it’d be better if we tried to get along 
on one salary and have a real home life but there are always so many 
things we need.’”) Such guilt, the report maintained, can be used to 
make her see the product, silver, as a means of holding the family 
together; it gives “added psychological value.” What’s more, the 
product can even fill the housewife’s need for identity: “Suggest that 
it becomes truly a part of you, reflecting you. Do not be afraid to 
suggest mystically that sterling will adapt itself to any house and any 
person.” 

The fur industry is in trouble, another survey reported, because 
young high school and college girls equate fur coats with 
“uselessness” and “a kept woman.” Again the advice was to get to 
the very young before these unfortunate connotations have formed. 
(“By introducing youngsters to positive fur experiences, the 
probabilities of easing their way into garment purchasing in their 
teens is enhanced.”) Point out that “the wearing of a fur garment 
actually establishes femininity and sexuality for a woman.” (“It’s the 
kind of thing a girl looks forward to. It means something. It’s 



feminine.” “I’m bringing my daughter up right. She always wants to 
put on ‘mommy’s coat.’ She’ll want them. She’s a real girl.”) But 
keep in mind that “mink has contributed a negative feminine 
symbolism to the whole fur market.” Unfortunately, two out of three 
women felt mink-wearers were “predatory. ..exploitative... 
dependent... socially nonproductive...” 

Femininity today cannot be so explicitly predatory, exploitative, 
the report said; nor can it have the old high-fashion “connotations of 
stand-out-ffom-the-crowd, self-centeredness.” And so fur’s “ego- 
orientation” must be reduced and replaced with the new femininity of 
the housewife, for whom ego-orientation must be translated into 
togetherness, family-orientation. 

Begin to create the feeling that fur is a necessity—a 
delightful necessity...thus providing the consumer with moral 
permission to purchase something she now feels is ego- 
oriented.... Give fur femininity a broader character, developing 
some of the following status and prestige symbols...an 
emotionally happy woman...wife and mother who wins the 
affection and respect of her husband and her children because of 
the kind of person she is, and the kind of role she performs.... 

Place furs in a family setting; show the pleasure and 
admiration of a fur garment derived by family members, husband 
and children; their pride in their mother’s appearance, in her 
ownership of a fur garment. Develop fur garments as “family” 
gifts—enable the whole family to enjoy that garment at 
Christmas, etc., thus reducing its ego-orientation for the owner 
and eliminating her guilt over her alleged self-indulgence. 


Thus, the only way that the young housewife was supposed to 
express herself, and not feel guilty about it, was in buying products 
for the home-and-family. Any creative urges she may have should 
also be home-and-family oriented, as still another survey reported to 
the home sewing industry. 

Such activities as sewing achieve a new meaning and a new 
status. Sewing is no longer associated with absolute need.... 
Moreover, with the moral elevation of home-oriented activities, 



sewing, along with cooking, gardening, and home decorating— 
is recognized as a means of expressing creativity and 
individuality and also as a means of achieving the “quality” 
which a new taste level dictates. 


The women who sew, this survey discovered, are the active, 
energetic, intelligent modern housewives, the new home-oriented 
modern American women, who have a great unfulfilled need to 
create, and achieve, and realize their own individuality—which must 
be filled by some home activity. The big problem for the home¬ 
sewing industry was that the “image” of sewing was too “dull” 
somehow it didn’t achieve the feeling of creating something 
important. In selling their products, the industry must emphasize the 
“lasting creativeness” of sewing. 

But even sewing can’t be too creative, too individual, according 
to the advice offered to one pattern manufacturer. His patterns 
required some intelligence to follow, left quite a lot of room for 
individual expression, and the manufacturer was in trouble for that 
very reason, his patterns implied that a woman “would know what 
she likes and would probably have definite ideas.” He was advised 
to widen this “far too limited fashion personality” and get one with 
“fashion conformity”—appeal to the “fashion-insecure woman,” “the 
conformist element in fashion,” who feels “it is not smart to be 
dressed too differently.” For, of course, the manufacturer’s problem 
was not to satisfy woman’s need for individuality, for expression or 
creativity, but to sell more patterns—which is better done by building 
conformity. 

Time and time again, the surveys shrewdly analyzed the needs, 
and even the secret frustrations of the American housewife; and each 
time if these needs were properly manipulated, she could be induced 
to buy more “things.” In 1957, a survey told the department stores that 
their role in this new world was not only to “sell” the housewife but 
to satisfy her need for “education”—to satisfy the yearning she has, 
alone in her house, to feel herself a part of the changing world. The 
store will sell her more, the report said, if it will understand that the 
real need she is trying to fill by shopping is not anything she can buy 
there. 


Most women have not only a material need, but a 



psychological compulsion to visit department stores. They live 
in comparative isolation. Their vista and experiences are 
limited. They know that there is a vaster life beyond their 
horizon and they fear that life will pass them by. 

Department stores break down that isolation. The woman 
entering a department store suddenly has the feeling she knows 
what is going on in the world. Department stores, more than 
magazines, TV, or any other medium of mass communication, 
are most women’s main source of information about the various 
aspects of life... 


There are many needs that the department store must fill, this 
report continued. For one, the housewife’s “need to learn and to 
advance in life.” 

We symbolize our social position by the objects with which 
we surround ourselves. A woman whose husband was making 
$6,000 a few years ago and is making $10,000 now needs to 
learn a whole new set of symbols. Department stores are her 
best teachers of this subject. 


For another, there is the need for achievement, which for the new 
modern housewife, is primarily filled by a “bargain.” 

We have found that in our economy of abundance, 
preoccupation with prices is not so much a financial as a 
psychological need for the majority of women.... Increasingly a 
“bargain” means not that “I can now buy something which I 
could not afford at a higher price” it mainly means “I’m doing a 
good job as a housewife; I’m contributing to the welfare of the 
family just as my husband does when he works and brings home 
the paycheck.” 


The price itself hardly matters, the report said: 


Since buying is only the climax of a complicated 



relationship, based to a large extent on the woman’s yearning to 
know how to be a more attractive woman, a better housewife, a 
superior mother, etc., use this motivation in all your promotion 
and advertising. Take every opportunity to explain how your 
store will help her fulfill her most cherished roles in life... 

If the stores are women’s school of life, ads are the 
textbooks. They have an inexhaustible avidity for these ads 
which give them the illusion that they are in contact with what is 
going on in the world of inanimate objects, objects through 
which they express so much of so many of their drives... 


Again, in 1957, a survey very correctly reported that despite the 
“many positive aspects” of the “new home-centered era,” 
unfortunately too many needs were now centered on the home—that 
home was not able to fill. A cause for alarm? No indeed; even these 
needs are grist for manipulation. 

The family is not always the psychological pot of gold at the 
end of the rainbow of promise of modern life as it has 
sometimes been represented. In fact, psychological demands are 
being made upon the family today which it cannot fulfill.... 

Fortunately for the producers and advertisers of America 
(and also for the family and the psychological well-being of our 
citizens) much of this gap may be filled, and is being filled, by 
the acquisition of consumer goods. 

Hundreds of products fulfill a whole set of psychological 
functions that producers and advertisers should know of and use 
in the development of more effective sales approaches. Just as 
producing once served as an outlet for social tension, now 
consumption serves the same purpose. 


The buying of things drains away those needs which cannot really 
be satisfied by home and family—the housewives’ need for 
“something beyond themselves with which to identify,” “a sense of 
movement with others toward aims that give meaning and purpose to 
life,” “an unquestioned social aim to which each individual can 
devote his efforts.” 



Deeply set in human nature is the need to have a meaningful 
place in a group that strives for meaningful social goals. 
Whenever this is lacking, the individual becomes restless. 
Which explains why, as we talk to people across the nation, 
over and over again, we hear questions like these: “What does it 
all mean?” “Where am I going?” “Why don’t things seem more 
worth while and when we all work so hard and have so darn 
many things to play with?” 

The question is: Can your product fill this gap? 


“The frustrated need for privacy in the family life,” in this era of 
“togetherness” was another secret wish uncovered in a depth survey. 
This need, however, might be used to sell a second car.... 

In addition to the car the whole family enjoys together, the 
car for the husband and wife separately—“Alone in the car, one 
may get the breathing spell one needs so badly and may come to 
consider the car as one’s castle, or the instrument of one’s 
reconquered privacy.” Or “individual” “personal” toothpaste, 
soap, shampoo. 


Another survey reported that there was a puzzling 
“desexualization of married life” despite the great emphasis on 
marriage and family and sex. The problem: what can supply what the 
report diagnosed as a “missing sexual spark”? The solution: the 
report advised sellers to “put the libido back into advertising.” 
Despite the feeling that our manufacturers are trying to sell everything 
through sex, sex as found on TV commercials and ads in national 
magazines is too tame, the report said, too narrow. “Consumerism,” 
is desexing the American libido because it “has failed to reflect the 
powerful life forces in every individual which range far beyond the 
relationship between the sexes.” The sellers, it seemed, have sexed 
the sex out of sex. 


Most modern advertising reflects and grossly exaggerates our 
present national tendency to downgrade, simplify and water 
down the passionate turbulent and electrifying aspects of the life 



urges of mankind.... No one suggests that advertising can or 
should become obscene or salacious. The trouble lies with the 
fact that through its timidity and lack of imagination, it faces the 
danger of becoming libido-poor and consequently unreal, 
inhuman and tedious. 


How to put the libido back, restore the lost spontaneity, drive, 
love of life, the individuality, that sex in America seems to lack? In 
an absent-minded moment, the report concludes that “love of life, as 
of the other sex, should remain unsoiled by exterior motives.. .let the 
wife be more than a housewife.. .a woman...” 

One day, having immersed myself in the varied insights these reports 
have been giving American advertisers for the last fifteen years, I 
was invited to have lunch with the man who runs this motivational 
research operation. He had been so helpful in showing me the 
commercial forces behind the feminine mystique, perhaps I could be 
helpful to him. Naively I asked why, since he found it so difficult to 
give women a true feeling of creativeness and achievement in 
housework, and tried to assuage their guilt and disillusion and 
frustrations by getting them to buy more “things”—why didn’t he 
encourage them to buy things for all they were worth, so they would 
have time to get out of the home and pursue truly creative goals in the 
outside world. 

“But we have helped her rediscover the home as the expression of 
her creativeness,” he said. “We help her think of the modern home as 
the artist’s studio, the scientist’s laboratory. Besides,” he shrugged, 
“most of the manufacturers we deal with are producing things which 
have to do with homemaking.” 

“In a free enterprise economy,” he went on, “we have to develop 
the need for new products. And to do that we have to liberate women 
to desire these new products. We help them rediscover that 
homemaking is more creative than to compete with men. This can be 
manipulated. We sell them what they ought to want, speed up the 
unconscious, move it along. The big problem is to liberate the woman 
not to be afraid of what is going to happen to her, if she doesn’t have 
to spend so much time cooking, cleaning.” 

“That’s what I mean,” I said. “Why doesn’t the pie-mix ad tell the 
woman she could use the time saved to be an astronomer?” 



“It wouldn’t be too difficult,” he replied. “A few images—the 
astronomer gets her man, the astronomer as the heroine, make it 
glamorous for a woman to be an astronomer...but no,” he shrugged 
again. “The client would be too frightened. He wants to sell pie mix. 
The woman has to want to stay in the kitchen. The manufacturer wants 
to intrigue her back into the kitchen—and we show him how to do it 
the right way. If he tells her that all she can be is a wife and mother, 
she will spit in his face. But we show him how to tell her that it’s 
creative to be in the kitchen. We liberate her need to be creative in 
the kitchen. If we tell her to be an astronomer, she might go too far 
from the kitchen. Besides,” he added, “if you wanted to have a 
campaign to liberate women to be astronomers, you’d have to find 
somebody like the National Education Association to pay for it.” 

The motivational researchers must be given credit for their insights 
into the reality of the housewife’s life and needs—a reality that often 
escaped their colleagues in academic sociology and therapeutic 
psychology, who saw women through the Freudian-functional veil. 
To their own profit, and that of their clients, the manipulators 
discovered that millions of supposedly happy American housewives 
have complex needs which home-and-family, love-and-children, 
cannot fill. But by a morality that goes beyond the dollar, the 
manipulators are guilty of using their insights to sell women things 
which, no matter how ingenious, will never satisfy those increasingly 
desperate needs. They are guilty of persuading housewives to stay at 
home, mesmerized in front of a television set, their nonsexual human 
needs unnamed, unsatisfied, drained by the sexual sell into the buying 
of things. 

The manipulators and their clients in American business can 
hardly be accused of creating the feminine mystique. But they are the 
most powerful of its perpetuators; it is their millions which blanket 
the land with persuasive images, flattering the American housewife, 
diverting her guilt and disguising her growing sense of emptiness. 
They have done this so successfully, employing the techniques and 
concepts of modern social science, and transposing them into those 
deceptively simple, clever, outrageous ads and commercials, that an 
observer of the American scene today accepts as fact that the great 
majority of American women have no ambition other than to be 
housewives. If they are not solely responsible for sending women 



home, they are surely responsible for keeping them there. Their 
unremitting harangue is hard to escape in this day of mass 
communications; they have seared the feminine mystique deep into 
every woman’s mind, and into the minds of her husband, her children, 
her neighbors. They have made it part of the fabric of her everyday 
life, taunting her because she is not a better housewife, does not love 
her family enough, is growing old. 

Can a woman ever feel right cooking on a dirty range? Until 
today, no range could ever be kept really clean. Now new RCA 
Whirlpool ranges have oven doors that lift off, broiler drawers 
that can be cleaned at the sink, drip pans that slide out easily. 
The first range that any woman can keep completely clean 
easily.. .and make everything cooked taste better. 


Love is said in many ways. It’s giving and accepting. It’s 
protecting and selecting...knowing what’s safest for those you 
love. Their bathroom tissue is Scott tissue always....Now in 
four colors and white. 


How skillfully they divert her need for achievement into sexual 
phantasies which promise her eternal youth, dulling her sense of 
passing time. They even tell her that she can make time stand still: 

Does she...or doesn’t she? She’s as full of fun as her kids— 
and just as fresh looking! Her naturalness, the way her hair 
sparkles and catches the light—as though she’s found the secret 
of making time stand still. And in a way she has... 


With increasing skill, the ads glorify her “role” as an American 
housewife—knowing that her very lack of identity in that role will 
make her fall for whatever they are selling. 


Who is she? She gets as excited as her six-year-old about the 
opening of school. She reckons her days in trains met, lunches 



packed, fingers bandaged, and 1,001 details. She could be you, 
needing a special kind of clothes for your busy, rewarding life. 


Are you this woman? Giving your kids the fun and 
advantages you want for them? Taking them places and helping 
them do things? Taking the part that’s expected of you in church 
and community affairs...developing your talents so you’ll be 
more interesting? You can be the woman you yearn to be with a 
Plymouth all your own.... Go where you want, when you want 
in a beautiful Plymouth that’s yours and nobody else’s... 


But a new stove or a softer toilet paper do not make a woman a 
better wife or mother, even if she thinks that’s what she needs to be. 
Dyeing her hair cannot stop time; buying a Plymouth will not give her 
a new identity; smoking a Marlboro will not get her an invitation to 
bed, even if that’s what she thinks she wants. But those unfulfilled 
promises can keep her endlessly hungry for things, keep her from 
ever knowing what she really needs or wants. 

A full-page ad in the New York Times , June 10, 1962, was 
“Dedicated to the woman who spends a lifetime living up to her 
potential!” Under the picture of a beautiful woman, adorned by 
evening dress and jewels and two handsome children, it said: “The 
only totally integrated program of nutrient make-up and skin care— 
designed to lift a woman’s good looks to their absolute peak. The 
woman who uses ‘Ultima’ feels a deep sense of fulfillment. A new 
kind of pride. For this luxurious Cosmetic Collection is the 
ultimate .. .beyond it there is nothing.” 

It all seems so ludicrous when you understand what they are up to. 
Perhaps the housewife has no one but herself to blame if she lets the 
manipulators flatter or threaten her into buying things that neither fill 
her family’s needs nor her own. But if the ads and commercials are a 
clear case of caveat emptor, the same sexual sell disguised in the 
editorial content of a magazine or a television program is both less 
ridiculous and more insidious. Here the housewife is often an 
unaware victim. I have written for some of the magazines in which 
the sexual sell is inextricably linked with the editorial content. 
Consciously or unconsciously, the editors know what the advertiser 



wants. 


The heart of X magazine is service—complete service to the 
whole woman who is the American homemaker; service in all 
the areas of greatest interest to advertisers, who are also 
business men. It delivers to the advertiser a strong concentration 
of serious, conscientious, dedicated homemakers. Women more 
interested in the home and products for the home. Women more 
willing and able to pay... 


A memo need never be written, a sentence need never be spoken 
at an editorial conference; the men and women who make the 
editorial decisions often compromise their own very high standards 
in the interests of the advertising dollar. Often, as a former editor of 
McCall’s recently revealed,- the advertiser’s influence is less than 
subtle. The kind of home pictured in the “service” pages is dictated 
in no uncertain terms by the boys over in advertising. 

And yet, a company has to make a profit on its products; a 
magazine, a network needs advertising to survive. But even if profit 
is the only motive, and the only standard of success, I wonder if the 
media are not making a mistake when they give the client what they 
think he wants. I wonder if the challenge and the opportunities for the 
American economy and for business itself might not in the long run 
lie in letting women grow up, instead of blanketing them with the 
youth-serum that keeps them mindless and thing-hungry. 

The real crime, no matter how profitable for the American 
economy, is the callous and growing acceptance of the manipulator’s 
advice “to get them young”—the television commercials that children 
sing or recite even before they learn to read, the big beautiful ads 
almost as easy as “Look, Sally, Look,” the magazines deliberately 
designed to turn teenage girls into housewife buyers of things before 
they grow up to be women: 

She reads X Magazine from beginning to end...She learns 
how to market, to cook and to sew and everything else a young 
woman should know. She plans her wardrobe ’round X 
Magazine’s clothes, heeds X Magazine’s counsel on beauty and 
beaus...consults X Magazine for the latest teen fads...and oh, 


how she buys from those X Magazine ads! Buying habits start in 
X Magazine. It’s easier to START a habit than to STOP one! 
(Learn how X Magazine’s unique publication, X Magazine-at- 
school, carries your advertising into high school home 
economics classrooms.) 


Like a primitive culture which sacrificed little girls to its tribal 
gods, we sacrifice our girls to the feminine mystique, grooming them 
ever more efficiently through the sexual sell to become consumers of 
the things to whose profitable sale our nation is dedicated. Two ads 
recently appeared in a national news magazine, geared not to teenage 
girls but to executives who produce and sell things. One of them 
showed the picture of a boy: 

I am so going to the moon.. .and you can’t go, ’cause you’re a 
girl! Children are growing faster today, their interests can cover 
such a wide range—from roller skates to rockets. X company 
too has grown, with a broad spectrum of electronic products for 
worldwide governmental, industrial and space application. 


The other showed the face of a girl: 

Should a gifted child grow up to be a housewife? 
Educational experts estimate that the gift of high intelligence is 
bestowed upon only one out of every 50 children in our nation. 
When that gifted child is a girl, one question is inevitably asked: 
“Will this rare gift be wasted if she becomes a housewife?” Let 
these gifted girls answer that question themselves. Over 90 per 
cent of them marry, and the majority find the job of being a 
housewife challenging and rewarding enough to make full use of 
all their intelligence, time and energy.... In her daily roles of 
nurse, educator, economist and just plain housewife, she is 
constantly seeking ways to improve her family’s life.... 
Millions of women—shopping for half the families in America 
—do so by saving X Stamps. 



If that gifted girl-child grows up to be a housewife, can even the 
manipulator make supermarket stamps use all of her human 
intelligence, her human energy, in the century she may live while that 
boy goes to the moon? 

Never underestimate the power of a woman, says another ad. But 
that power was and is underestimated in America. Or rather, it is 
only estimated in terms that can be manipulated at the point of 
purchase. Woman’s human intelligence and energy do not really 
figure in. And yet, they exist, to be used for some higher purpose than 
housework and thing-buying—or wasted. Perhaps it is only a sick 
society, unwilling to face its own problems and unable to conceive of 
goals and purposes equal to the ability and knowledge of its 
members, that chooses to ignore the strength of women. Perhaps it is 
only a sick or immature society that chooses to make women 
“housewives,” not people. Perhaps it is only sick or immature men 
and women, unwilling to face the great challenges of society, who 
can retreat for long, without unbearable distress, into that thing- 
ridden house and make it the end of life itself. 



10 



Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time Available 


Wi* a vision of the happy modern housewife as she is described 
by the magazines and television, by the functional sociologists, the 
sex-directed educators, and the manipulators dancing before my eyes, 
I went in search of one of those mystical creatures. Like Diogenes 
with his lamp, I went as a reporter from suburb to suburb, searching 
for a woman of ability and education who was fulfilled as a 
housewife. I went first to the suburban mental health centers and 
guidance clinics, to reputable local analysts, to knowledgeable local 
residents, and, stating my purpose, asked them to steer me not to the 
neurotic, frustrated housewives, but to the able, intelligent, educated 
women who were adjusted full-time housewives and mothers. 

“I know many such housewives who have found fulfillment as 
women,” one psychoanalyst said. I asked him to name four, and went 
to see them 

One, after five years of therapy, was no longer a driven woman, 
but neither was she a full-time housewife; she had become a 
computer programmer. The second was a gloriously exuberant 
woman, with a fine successful husband and three able, exuberant 
children. Throughout her married life she had been a professional 
psychoanalyst. The third, between pregnancies, continued seriously 
her career as a dancer. And the fourth, after psychotherapy, was 
moving with an increasingly serious commitment into politics. 

I reported back to my guide and said that while all four seemed 
“fulfilled” women, none were full-time housewives and one, after 
all, was a member of his own profession. “That’s a coincidence with 
those four,” he said. But I wondered if it was a coincidence. 

In another community, I was directed to a woman who, my 
informant said, was truly fulfilled as a housewife (“she even bakes 
her own bread”). I discovered that during the years when her four 
children were under six and she wrote on the census blank 
“Occupation: housewife,” she had learned a new language (with 
certification to teach) and had used her previous training in music 



first as volunteer church organist and then as a paid professional. 
Shortly after I interviewed her, she took a teaching position. 

In many instances, however, the women I interviewed truly fitted 
the new image of feminine fulfillment—four, five, or six children, 
baked their own bread, helped build the house with their own hands, 
sewed all their children’s clothes. These women had had no dreams 
of career, no visions of a world larger than the home; all energy was 
centered on their lives as housewives and mothers; their only 
ambition, their only dream already realized. But were they fulfilled 
women? 

In one upper-income development where I interviewed, there 
were twenty-eight wives. Some were college graduates in their 
thirties or early forties; the younger wives had usually quit college to 
marry. Their husbands were, to a rather high degree, engrossed in 
challenging professional work. Only one of these wives worked 
professionally; most had made a career of motherhood with a dash of 
community activity. Nineteen out of the twenty-eight had had natural 
childbirth (at dinner parties there, a few years ago, wives and 
husbands often got down on the floor to practice the proper relaxing 
exercises together). Twenty of the twenty-eight breastfed their 
babies. At or near forty, many of these women were pregnant. The 
mystique of feminine fulfillment was so literally followed in this 
community that if a little girl said: “When I grow up, I’m going to be 
a doctor,” her mother would correct her: “No, dear, you’re a girl. 
You’re going to be a wife and mother, like mummy.” 

But what was mummy really like? Sixteen out of the twenty-eight 
were in analysis or analytical psychotherapy. Eighteen were taking 
tranquilizers; several had tried suicide; and some had been 
hospitalized for varying periods, for depression or vaguely 
diagnosed psychotic states. (“You’d be surprised at the number of 
these happy suburban wives who simply go berserk one night, and 
run shrieking through the street without any clothes on,” said the local 
doctor, not a psychiatrist, who had been called in, in such 
emergencies.) Of the women who breastfed their babies, one had 
continued, desperately, until the child was so undernourished that her 
doctor intervened by force. Twelve were engaged in extramarital 
affairs in fact or in fantasy. 

These were fine, intelligent American women, to be envied for 
their homes, husbands, children, and for their personal gifts of mind 
and spirit. Why were so many of them driven women? Later, when I 



saw this same pattern repeated over and over again in similar 
suburbs, I knew it could hardly be coincidence. These women were 
alike mainly in one regard: they had uncommon gifts of intelligence 
and ability nourished by at least the beginnings of higher education— 
and the life they were leading as suburban housewives denied them 
the full use of their gifts. 

It was in these women that I first began to notice the tell-tale signs 
of the problem that has no name; their voices were dull and flat, or 
nervous and jittery; they were listless and bored, or frantically 
“busy” around the house or community. They talked about 
“fulfillment” in the wife-and-mother terms of the mystique, but they 
were desperately eager to talk about this other “problem,” with 
which they seemed very familiar indeed. 

One woman had pioneered the search for good teachers in her 
community’s backward school system; she had served her term on the 
school board. When her children had all started school, she had 
thought seriously at thirty-nine about her own future: should she go 
back to college, get an M.A., and become a professional teacher 
herself? But then, suddenly, she had decided not to go on—she had a 
late baby instead, her fifth. I heard that flat tone in her voice when she 
told me she had now retired from community leadership to “major 
again in the home.” 

I heard the same sad, flat tone in an older woman’s voice as she 
told me: 


I’m looking for something to satisfy me. I think it would be 
the most wonderful thing in the world to work, to be useful. But 
I don’t know how to do anything. My husband doesn’t believe in 
wives working. I’d cut off both my arms if I could have my 
children little, and at home again. My husband says, find 
something to occupy yourself that you’ll enjoy, why should you 
work? So now I play golf, nearly every day, just myself. When 
you walk three, four hours a day, at least you can sleep at night. 


I interviewed another woman in the huge kitchen of a house she 
had helped build herself. She was busily kneading the dough for her 
famous homemade bread; a dress she was making for a daughter was 
half-finished on the sewing machine; a handloom stood in one corner. 
Children’s art materials and toys were strewn all over the floor of the 



house, from front door to stove: in this expensive modern house, like 
many of the open-plan houses in this era, there was no door at all 
between kitchen and living room. Nor did this mother have any dream 
or wish or thought or frustration of her own to separate her from her 
children. She was pregnant now with her seventh; her happiness was 
complete, she said, spending her days with her children. Perhaps here 
was a happy housewife. 

But just before I left, I said, as an afterthought, that I guessed she 
was joking when she mentioned that she envied her neighbor, who 
was a professional designer as well as the mother of three children. 
“No, I wasn’t joking,” she said; and this serene housewife, kneading 
the dough for the bread she always made herself, started to cry. “I 
envy her terribly,” she said. “She knows what she wants to do. I 
don’t know. I never have. When I’m pregnant and the babies are 
little, I’m somebody, finally, a mother. But then, they get older. I can’t 
just keep on having babies.” 

While I never found a woman who actually fitted that “happy 
housewife” image, I noticed something else about these able women 
who were leading their lives in the protective shade of the feminine 
mystique. They were so busy —busy shopping, chauffeuring, using 
their dishwashers and dryers and electric mixers, busy gardening, 
waxing, polishing, helping with the children’s homework, collecting 
for mental health, and doing thousands of little chores. In the course 
of my interviews with these women, I began to see that there was 
something peculiar about the time housework takes today. 

On one suburban road there were two colonial houses, each with 
a big, comfortable living room, a small library, a formal dining room, 
a big cheerful kitchen, four bedrooms, an acre of garden and lawn, 
and, in each family, one commuting husband and three school-age 
children. Both houses were well-kept, with a cleaning woman two 
days a week; but the cooking and the other housework was done by 
the wife, who in each case was in her late thirties, intelligent, 
healthy, attractive, and well-educated. 

In the first house, Mrs. W., a full-time housewife, was busy most 
of every day with cooking, cleaning, shopping, chauffeuring, taking 
care of the children. Next door Mrs. D., a microbiologist, got most of 
these chores done before she left for her laboratory at nine, or after 
she got home at five-thirty. In neither family were the children 
neglected, though Mrs. D.’s were slightly more self-reliant. Both 



women entertained a fair amount. Mrs. W., the housewife, did a lot of 
routine community work, but she did not “have time” to take a policy¬ 
making office—which she was often offered as an intelligent capable 
woman. At most, she headed a committee to run a dance, or a PTA 
fair. Mrs. D., the scientist, did no routine community work, but, in 
addition to her job and home, played in a dedicated string quintet 
(music was her main interest outside of science), and held a policy¬ 
making post in the world-affairs organization which had been an 
interest since college. 

How could the same size house and the same size family, under 
almost identical conditions of income, outside help, style of life, take 
so much more of Mrs. W.’s time than of Mrs. D.’s? And Mrs. W. was 
never idle, really. She never had time in the evening to “just read,” as 
Mrs. D. often did. 

In a large, modern apartment building in a big eastern city, there 
were two six-room apartments, both a little untidy, except when the 
cleaning woman had just left, or before a party. Both the G.’s and the 
R.’s had three children under ten, one still a baby. Both husbands 
were in their early thirties, and both were in demanding professional 
work. But Mr. G., whose wife is a full-time housewife, was expected 
to do, and did, much more housework when he got home at night or 
on Saturday than Mr. R., whose wife was a freelance illustrator and 
evidently had to get the same amount of housework done in between 
the hours she spent at her drawing table. Mrs. G. somehow couldn’t 
get her housework done before her husband came home at night and 
was so tired then that he had to do it. Why did Mrs. R., who did not 
count the housework as her main job, get it done in so much less 
time? 

I noticed this pattern again and again, as I interviewed women 
who defined themselves as “housewives,” and compared them to the 
few who pursued professions, part or full time. The same pattern held 
even where both housewife and professional had full-time domestic 
help, though more often the “housewives” chose to do their own 
housework, full time, even when they could well afford two servants. 
But I also discovered that many frantically busy full-time housewives 
were amazed to find that they could polish off in one hour the 
housework that used to take them six—or was still undone at 
dinnertime—as soon as they started studying, or working, or had 
some other serious interest outside the home. 

Toying with the question, how can one hour of housework expand 



to fill six hours (same house, same work, same wife), I came back 
again to the basic paradox of the feminine mystique: that it emerged 
to glorify woman’s role as housewife at the very moment when the 
barriers to her full participation in society were lowered, at the very 
moment when science and education and her own ingenuity made it 
possible for a woman to be both wife and mother and to take an 
active part in the world outside the home. The glorification of 
“woman’s role,” then, seems to be in proportion to society’s 
reluctance to treat women as complete human beings; for the less real 
function that role has, the more it is decorated with meaningless 
details to conceal its emptiness. This phenomenon has been noted, in 
general terms, in the annals of social science and in history—the 
chivalry of the Middle Ages, for example, and the artificial pedestal 
of the Victorian woman—but it may come as somewhat of a shock to 
the emancipated American woman to discover that it applies in a 
concrete and extreme degree to the housewife’s situation in America 
today. 

Did the new mystique of separate-but-equal femininity arise 
because the growth of women in America could no longer be 
repressed by the old mystique of feminine inferiority? Could women 
be prevented from realizing their full capabilities by making their 
role in the home equal to man’s role in society? “Woman’s place is 
in the home” could no longer be said in tones of contempt. 
Housework, washing dishes, diaper-changing had to be dressed up by 
the new mystique to become equal to splitting atoms, penetrating 
outer space, creating art that illuminates human destiny, pioneering on 
the frontiers of society. It had to become the very end of life itself to 
conceal the obvious fact that it is barely the beginning. 

When you look at it this way, the double deception of the feminine 
mystique becomes quite apparent: 

1. The more a woman is deprived of function in society at the 
level of her own ability, the more her housework, mother-work, 
wife-work, will expand—and the more she will resist finishing her 
housework or mother-work, and being without any function at all. 
(Evidently human nature also abhors a vacuum, even in women.) 

2. The time required to do the housework for any given woman 
varies inversely with the challenge of the other work to which she is 
committed. Without any outside interests, a woman is virtually forced 
to devote her every moment to the trivia of keeping house. 

The simple principle that “Work Expands to Fill the Time 



Available” was first formulated by the Englishman C. Northcote 
Parkinson on the basis of his experience with administrative 
bureaucracy in World War II. Parkinson’s Law can easily be 
reformulated for the American housewife: Housewifery Expands to 
Fill the Time Available, or Motherhood Expands to Fill the Time 
Available, or even Sex Expands to Fill the Time Available. This is, 
without question, the true explanation for the fact that even with all 
the new labor-saving appliances, the modern American housewife 
probably spends more time on housework than her grandmother. It is 
also part of the explanation for our national preoccupation with sex 
and love, and for the continued baby boom. 

Tabling for the moment the sexual implications, which are vast, 
let’s consider some of the dynamics of the law itself, as an 
explanation for the disposal of feminine energy in America. To go 
back several generations: I have suggested that the real cause both of 
feminism and of women’s frustration was the emptiness of the 
housewife’s role. The major work and decisions of society were 
taking place outside the home, and women felt the need, or fought for 
the right, to participate in this work. If women had gone on to use 
their newly-won education and find new identity in this work outside 
the home, the mechanics of housewifery would have taken the same 
subsidiary place in their lives as car and garden and workbench in 
man’s life. Motherhood, wifehood, sexual love, family responsibility, 
would merely have acquired a new emotional importance, as they 
have for men. (Many observers have noticed the new joy American 
men have been taking in their children—as their own work week is 
shortened—without that edge of anger women whose children are 
their work seem to feel.) 

But when the mystique of feminine fulfillment sent women back 
home again, housewifery had to expand into a full-time career. 
Sexual love and motherhood had to become all of life, had to use up, 
to dispose of women’s creative energies. The very nature of family 
responsibility had to expand to take the place of responsibility to 
society. As this began to happen, each labor-saving appliance 
brought a labor-demanding elaboration of housework. Each scientific 
advance that might have freed women from the drudgery of cooking, 
cleaning, and washing, thereby giving her more time for other 
purposes, instead imposed new drudgery, until housework not only 
expanded to fill the time available, but could hardly be done in the 
available time. 



The automatic clothes dryer does not save a woman the four or 
five hours a week she used to spend at the clothesline, if, for 
instance, she runs her washing machine and dryer every day After 
all, she still has to load and unload the machine herself, sort the 
clothes and put them away As a young mother said, “Clean sheets 
twice a week are now possible. Last week, when my dryer broke 
down, the sheets didn’t get changed for eight days. Everyone 
complained. We all felt dirty. I felt guilty. Isn’t that silly?”- 

The modern American housewife spends far more time washing, 
drying, and ironing than her mother. If she has an electric freezer or 
mixer, she spends more time cooking than a woman who does not 
have these labor-saving appliances. The home freezer, simply by 
existing, takes up time: beans, raised in the garden, must be prepared 
for freezing. If you have an electric mixer, you have to use it: those 
elaborate recipes with the pureed chestnuts, watercress, and almonds 
take longer than broiling lamb chops. 

According to a Bryn Mawr survey made just after the war, in a 
typical United States farm family, housework took 60.55 hours a 
week; 78.35 hours in cities under 100,000; 80.57 in cities of over 
100,000.- With all their appliances, the suburban and city 
housewives spend more time on housework than the busy farmer’s 
wife. That farmer’s wife, of course, has quite a lot of other work to 
do. 

In the 1950’s, sociologists and home economists reported 
puzzlement, and baffling inconsistencies, as to the amount of time 
American women were still spending on housework. Study after 
study revealed that American housewives were spending almost as 
many, or even more, hours a day on housekeeping as women thirty 
years earlier, despite the smaller, easier-to-care-for homes, and 
despite the fact that they had seven times as much capital equipment 
in housekeeping appliances. There were, however, some exceptions. 
Women who worked many hours a week outside the home—either in 
paid jobs or community work—did the housekeeping, on which the 
full-time housewife still spent sixty hours a week, in half the time. 
They still seemed to do all the homemaking activities of the 
housewife—meals, shopping, cleaning, the children—but even with a 
thirty-five-hour work week on the job, their work week was only an 
hour and a half a day longer than the housewife’s. That this strange 
phenomenon caused so little comment was due to the relative scarcity 


of such women. For the even stranger phenomenon, the real 
significance of which the mystique hid, was the fact that, despite the 
growth of the American population and the movement of that 
population from farm to city with the parallel growth of American 
industry and professions, in the first fifty years of the twentieth 
century the proportion of American women working outside the home 
increased very little indeed, while the proportion of American 
women in the professions actually declined.- From nearly half the 
nation’s professional force in 1930, women had dropped to only 35 
per cent in 1960, despite the fact that the number of women college 
graduates had nearly tripled. The phenomenon was the great increase 
in the numbers of educated women choosing to be just housewives. 

And yet, for the suburban and city housewife, the fact remains that 
more and more of the jobs that used to be performed in the home have 
been taken away: canning, baking bread, weaving cloth and making 
clothes, educating the young, nursing the sick, taking care of the aged. 
It is possible for women to reverse history—or kid themselves that 
they can reverse it—by baking their own bread, but the law does not 
permit them to teach their own children at home, and few housewives 
would match their so-called generalist’s skill with the professional 
expertise of doctor and hospital to nurse a child through tonsillitis or 
pneumonia at home. 

There is a real basis, then, for the complaint that so many 
housewives have: “I feel so empty somehow, useless, as if I don’t 
exist.” “At times I feel as though the world is going past my door 
while I just sit and watch.” This very sense of emptiness, this uneasy 
denial of the world outside the home, often drives the housewife to 
even more effort, more frantic housework to keep the future out of 
sight. And the choices the housewife makes to fill that emptiness— 
though she seems to make them for logical and necessary reasons— 
trap her further in trivial domestic routine. 

The woman with two children, for example, bored and restive in 
her city apartment, is driven by her sense of futility and emptiness to 
move, “for the children’s sake,” to a spacious house in the suburbs. 
The house takes longer to clean, the shopping and gardening and 
chauffeuring and do-it-yourself routines are so time-consuming that, 
for a while, the emptiness seems solved. But when the house is 
furnished, and the children are in school and the family’s place in the 
community has jelled, there is “nothing to look forward to,” as one 
woman I interviewed put it. The empty feeling returns, and so she 


must redecorate the living room, or wax the kitchen floor more often 
than necessary—or have another baby. Diapering that baby, along 
with all the other housework, may keep her running so fast that she 
will indeed need her husband’s help in the kitchen at night. Yet none 
of it is quite as real, quite as necessary, as it seems. 

One of the great changes in America, since World War II, has 
been the explosive movement to the suburbs, those ugly and endless 
sprawls which are becoming a national problem. Sociologists point 
out that a distinguishing feature of these suburbs is the fact that the 
women who live there are better educated than city women, and that 
the great majority are full-time housewives. - 

At first glance, one might suspect that the very growth and 
existence of the suburbs causes educated modern American women to 
become and remain full-time housewives. Or did the postwar 
suburban explosion come, at least in part, as a result of the 
coincidental choice of millions of American women to “seek 
fulfillment in the home?” Among the women I interviewed, the 
decision to move to the suburbs “for the children’s sake” followed 
the decision to give up job or profession and become a full-time 
housewife, usually after the birth of the first baby, or the second, 
depending on the age of the woman when the mystique hit. With the 
youngest wives, of course, the mystique hit so early that the choice of 
marriage and motherhood as a full-time career ruled out education for 
any profession, and the move to the suburbs came with marriage or as 
soon as the wife no longer had to work to support her husband 
through college or law school. 

Families where the wife intends to pursue a definite professional 
goal are less likely to move to the suburbs. In the city, of course, 
there are more and better jobs for educated women; more 
universities, sometimes free, with evening courses, geared to men 
who work during the day, and often more convenient than the 
conventional daytime program for a young mother who wants to 
finish college or work toward a graduate degree. There is also a 
better supply of fiill-or part-time nurses and cleaning help, nursery 
schools, day-care centers, after-school play programs. But these 
considerations are only important to the woman who has 
commitments outside the home. 

There is also less room for housewifery to expand to fill the time 
available, in the city. That sense of restless “marking time” comes 
early to the educated, able city housewife, even though, when her 


babies are little, the time is more than filled with busyness— 
wheeling the carriage back and forth in the park, sitting on the 
playground bench because the children can’t play outside alone. Still, 
there’s no room in the city apartment for a home freezer, no garden to 
grow beans in. And all the organizations in the city are so big; the 
libraries are already built; professionals run the nursery schools and 
recreation programs. 

It is not surprising, then, that many young wives vote for a move to 
the suburbs as soon as possible. Like the empty plains of Kansas that 
tempted the restless immigrant, the suburbs in their very newness and 
lack of structured service, offered, at least at first, a limitless 
challenge to the energy of educated American women. The women 
who were strong enough, independent enough, seized the opportunity 
and were leaders and innovators in these new communities. But, in 
most cases, these were women educated before the era of feminine 
fulfillment. The ability of suburban life to fulfill, or truly use the 
potential of the able, educated American woman seems to depend on 
her own previous autonomy or self-realization—that is, on her 
strength to resist the pressures to conform, resist the time-filling 
busywork of suburban house and community, and find, or make, the 
same kind of serious commitment outside the home that she would 
have made in the city. Such a commitment in the suburbs, in the 
beginning at least, was likely to be on a volunteer basis, but it was 
challenging, and necessary. 

When the mystique took over, however, a new breed of women 
came to the suburbs. They were looking for sanctuary; they were 
perfectly willing to accept the suburban community as they found it 
(their only problem was “how to fit in”); they were perfectly willing 
to fill their days with the trivia of housewifery. Women of this kind, 
and most of those that I interviewed were of the post-1950 college 
generation, refuse to take policy-making positions in community 
organizations; they will only collect for Red Cross or March of 
Dimes or Scouts or be den mothers or take the lesser PTA jobs. Their 
resistance to serious community responsibility is usually explained 
by “I can’t take the time from my family.” But much of their time is 
spent in meaningless busywork. The kind of community work they 
choose does not challenge their intelligence—or even, sometimes, 
fill a real function. Nor do they derive much personal satisfaction 
from it—but it does fill time. 

So, increasingly, in the new bedroom suburbs, the really 



interesting volunteer jobs—the leadership of the cooperative 
nurseries, the tree libraries, the school board posts, the 
selectmenships and, in some suburbs, even the PTA presidencies— 
are filled by men.- The housewife who doesn’t “have time” to take 
serious responsibility in the community, like the woman who doesn’t 
“have time” to pursue a professional career, evades a serious 
commitment through which she might finally realize herself; she 
evades it by stepping up her domestic routine until she is truly 
trapped. 

The dimensions of the trap seem physically unalterable, as the 
busyness that fills the housewife’s day seems inescapably necessary. 
But is that domestic trap an illusion, despite its all-too-solid reality, 
an illusion created by the feminine mystique? Take, for instance, the 
open plan of the contemporary “ranch” or split-level house, $14,990 
to $54,990, which has been built in the millions from Roslyn Heights 
to the Pacific Palisades. They give the illusion of more space for less 
money. But the women to whom they are sold almost have to live the 
feminine mystique. There are no true walls or doors; the woman in 
the beautiful electronic kitchen is never separated from her children. 
She need never feel alone for a minute, need never be by herself. She 
can forget her own identity in those noisy open-plan houses. The open 
plan also helps expand the housework to fill the time available. In 
what is basically one free-flowing room, instead of many rooms 
separated by walls and stairs, continual messes continually need 
picking up. A man, of course, leaves the house for most of the day. 
But the feminine mystique forbids the woman this. 

A friend of mine, an able writer turned full-time housewife, had 
her suburban dream house designed by an architect to her own 
specifications, during the period when she defined herself as 
housewife and no longer wrote. The house, which cost approximately 
$50,000, was almost literally one big kitchen. There was a separate 
studio for her husband, who was a photographer, and cubbyholes for 
sleeping, but there wasn’t any place where she could get out of the 
kitchen, away from her children, during the working hours. The 
gorgeous mahogany and stainless steel of her custom-built kitchen 
cabinets and electric appliances were indeed a dream, but when I 
saw that house, I wondered where, if she ever wanted to write again, 
she would put her typewriter. 

It’s strange how few places there are in those spacious houses and 
those sprawling suburbs where you can go to be alone. A 


sociologist’s study of upper-income suburban wives who married 
young and woke, after fifteen years of child-living, PTA, do-it- 
yourself, garden-and-barbecue, to the realization that they wanted to 
do some real work themselves, found that the ones who did 
something about this often moved back to the city.- But among the 
women I talked to, this moment of personal truth was more likely to 
be marked by adding a room with a door to their open-plan house, or 
simply by putting a door on one room in the house, “so I can have 
someplace to myself, just a door to shut between me and the children 
when I want to think”—or work, study, be alone. 

Most American housewives, however, do not shut that door. 
Perhaps they are afraid, finally, to be alone in that room. As another 
social scientist said, the American housewife’s dilemma is that she 
does not have the privacy to follow real interests of her own, but 
even if she had more time and space to herself, she would not know 
what to do with it.- If she makes a career of marriage and 
motherhood, as the mystique tells her, if she becomes the executive of 
the house—and has enough children to give her quite a business to 
run—if she exerts the human strength, which she is forbidden by the 
mystique to exert elsewhere, on running a perfect house and 
supervising her children and sharing her husband’s career in such 
omnipresent detail that she has only a few minutes to spare for 
community work, and no time for serious larger interests, who is to 
say that this is not as important, as good a way to spend a life, as 
mastering the secrets of the atoms or the stars, composing 
symphonies, pioneering a new concept in government or society? 

For the very able woman, who has the ability to create culturally 
as well as biologically, the only possible rationalization is to 
convince herself—as the new mystique tries so hard to convince her 
—that the minute physical details of child care are indeed mystically 
creative; that her children will be tragically deprived if she is not 
there every minute; that the dinner she gives the boss’s wife is as 
crucial to her husband’s career as the case he fights in court or the 
problem he solves in the laboratory. And because husband and 
children are soon out of the house most of the day, she must keep on 
having new babies, or somehow make the minutiae of housework 
itself important enough, necessary enough, hard enough, creative 
enough to justify her very existence. 

If a woman’s whole existence is to be justified in this way, if the 


housewife’s work is really so important, so necessary, why should 
anyone raise an eyebrow because a latter-day Einstein’s wife expects 
her husband to put aside that lifeless theory of relativity and help her 
with the work that is supposed to be the essence of life itself: diaper 
the baby and don’t forget to rinse the soiled diaper in the toilet before 
putting it in the diaper pail, and then wax the kitchen floor. 

The most glaring proof that, no matter how elaborate, 
“Occupation: housewife” is not an adequate substitute for truly 
challenging work, important enough to society to be paid for in its 
coin, arose from the comedy of “togetherness.” The women acting in 
this little morality play were told that they had the starring roles, that 
their parts were just as important, perhaps even more important than 
the parts their husbands played in the world outside the home. Was it 
unnatural that, since they were doing such a vital job, women insisted 
that their husbands share in the housework? Surely it was an 
unspoken guilt, an unspoken realization of their wives’ entrapment, 
that made so many men comply, with varying degrees of grace, to 
their wives’ demands. But having their husbands share the housework 
didn’t really compensate women for being shut out of the larger 
world. If anything, by removing still more of their functions, it 
increased their sense of individual emptiness. They needed to share 
vicariously more and more of their children’s and husbands’ lives. 
Togetherness was a poor substitute for equality; the glorification of 
women’s role was a poor substitute for free participation in the 
world as an individual. 

The true emptiness beneath the American housewife’s routine has 
been revealed in many ways. In Minneapolis recently a school¬ 
teacher named Maurice K. Enghausen read a story in the local 
newspaper about the long work week of today’s housewife. 
Declaring in a letter to the editor that “any woman who puts in that 
many hours is awfully slow, a poor budgeter of time, or just plain 
inefficient,” this thirty-six-year-old bachelor offered to take over any 
household and show how it could be done. 

Scores of irate housewives dared him to prove it. He took over 
the household of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Dalton, with four children, 
aged two to seven, for three days. In a single day, he cleaned the first 
floor, washed three loads of clothes and hung them out to dry, ironed 
all the laundry including underwear and sheets, fixed a soup-and- 
sandwich lunch and a big backyard supper, baked two cakes, 
prepared two salads for the next day, dressed, undressed, and bathed 



the children, washed wood work and scrubbed the kitchen floor. Mrs. 
Dalton said he was even a better cook than she was. “As for 
cleaning,” she said, “I am more thorough, but perhaps that is 
unnecessary.” 

Pointing out that he had kept house for himself for seven years and 
had earned money at college by housework, Enghausen said, “I still 
wish that teaching 115 students were as easy as handling four 
children and a house...I still maintain that housework is not the 
interminable chore that women claim it is.”- 

This claim, periodically expressed by men privately and publicly, 
has been borne out by a recent time-motion study. Recording and 
analyzing every movement made by a group of housewives, this study 
concluded that most of the energy expended in housework is 
superfluous. A series of intensive studies sponsored by the Michigan 
Heart Association at Wayne University disclosed that “women were 
working more than twice as hard as they should,” squandering energy 
through habit and tradition in wasted motion and unneeded steps. 

The puzzling question of “housewife’s fatigue” sheds additional 
light. Doctors in many recent medical conventions report failure to 
cure it or get to its cause. At a meeting of the American College of 
Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a Cleveland doctor stated that 
mothers, who cannot get over “that tired feeling” and complain that 
their doctors are no help, are neither sick nor maladjusted, but 
actually tired. “No psychoanalysis or deep probing is necessary,” 
said Dr. Leonard Lovshin, of the Cleveland Clinic. “She has a work 
day of sixteen hours, a work week of seven days.... Being 
conscientious, she gets involved in Cubs, Brownies, PTA’s, heart 
drives, church work, hauling children to music and dancing.” But 
strangely enough, he remarked, neither the housewife’s workload nor 
her fatigue seemed affected by how many children she had. Most of 
these patients had only one or two. “A woman with one child just 
worries four times as much about the one as the woman with four 
children, and it all comes out even,” Dr. Lovshin said. 

Some doctors, finding nothing organically wrong with these 
chronically tired mothers, told them, “It’s all in your mind” others 
gave them pills, vitamins, or injections for anemia, low blood 
pressure, low metabolism, or put them on diets (the average 
housewife is twelve to fifteen pounds overweight), deprived them of 
drinking (there are approximately a million known alcoholic 
housewives in America), or gave them tranquilizers. All such 


treatments were futile, Dr. Lovshin said, because these mothers were 
truly tired. 

Other doctors, finding that such mothers get as much or more 
sleep than they need, claimed the basic cause was not fatigue but 
boredom. This problem became so severe that the women’s 
magazines treated it fiilsomely—in the Pollyanna terms of the 
feminine mystique. In a spate of articles that appeared in the late 
1950’s, the “cures” suggested were usually of the more-praise-and- 
appreciation-ffom-husband variety, even though the doctors 
interviewed in these articles indicated clearly enough that the cause 
was in the “housewife-mother” role. But the magazines drew their 
usual conclusion: that is, and always will be woman’s lot, and she 
just has to make the best of it. Thus, Redbook (“Why Young Mothers 
Are Always Tired,” September, 1959) reports the findings of the 
Baruch study of chronic-fatigue patients: 

...Fatigue of any kind is a signal that something is wrong. 
Physical fatigue protects the organism from injury through too 
great activity of any part of the body. Nervous fatigue, on the 
other hand, is usually a warning of danger to the personality. 
This comes out very clearly in the woman patient who 
complains bitterly that she is “just a housewife,” that she is 
wasting her talents and education on household drudgery and 
losing her attractiveness, her intelligence, and indeed her very 
identity as a person, explains Dr. Harley C. Sands, one of the 
co-heads of the Baruch project. In industry the most fatiguing 
jobs are those which only partially occupy the worker’s 
attention, but at the same time prevent him from concentrating on 
anything else. Many young wives say that this mental gray-out is 
what bothers them most in caring for home and children. “After 
a while your mind becomes a blank,” they say. “You can’t 
concentrate on anything. It’s like sleep-walking.” 


The magazine also quotes a Johns Hopkins psychiatrist to the 
effect that the major factor which produces chronic fatigue in patients 
was “monotony unpunctuated by any major triumph or disaster,” 
noting that this “sums up the predicament of many a young mother.” It 
even cites the results of the University of Michigan study in which of 


524 women asked “what are some of the things which make you feel 
‘useful and important,’” almost none answered “housework” among 
the women who had jobs, “the overwhelming majority, married and 
single, felt that the job was more satisfying than the housework.” At 
this point the magazine interjects editorially: “This, of course, does 
not mean that a career is the alternative to fatigue for a young mother. 
If anything, the working mother may have more troubles than the 
housebound young matron.” The magazine’s happy conclusion: 
“Since the demands of housework and child-rearing are not very 
flexible, there is no complete solution to chronic-fatigue problems. 
Many women, however, can cut down fatigue if they stop asking too 
much of themselves. By trying to understand realistically what she 
can—and, more important, what she cannot—do, a woman may, in 
the long run, be a better wife and mother, albeit a tired one.” 

Another such article (“Is Boredom Bad for You?” McCall’s , 
April 1957) asked, “Is the housewife’s chronic fatigue really 
boredom?” and answers: “Yes. The chronic fatigue of many 
housewives is brought on by the repetition of their jobs, the monotony 
of the setting, the isolation and the lack of stimulation. The heavy 
household chores, it’s been found, aren’t enough to explain the 
fatigue.... The more your intelligence exceeds your job requirements, 
the greater your boredom. This is so to such an extent that 
experienced employers never hire above-average brains for routine 
jobs.... It is this boredom plus, of course, the day-to-day frustrations 
which makes the average housewife’s job more emotionally fatiguing 
than her husband’s.” The cure: “honest enjoyment in some part of the 
job such as cooking or an incentive such as a party in the offing and, 
above all, male praise are good antidotes for domestic boredom.” 

For the women I interviewed, the problem seemed to be not that 
too much was asked of them, but too little. “A kind of torpor comes 
over me when I get home from the errands,” one woman told me. “It’s 
as if there’s nothing I really have to do, though there’s plenty to do 
around the house. So I keep a bottle of martinis in the refrigerator, 
and I pour myself some so I’ll feel more like doing something. Or just 
to get through till Don comes home.” 

Other women eat, as they stretch out the housework, just to fill the 
time available. Obesity and alcoholism, as neuroses, have often been 
related to personality patterns that stem from childhood. But does this 
explain why so many American housewives around forty have the 
same dull and lifeless look; does it explain their lack of vitality, the 



deadly sameness of their lives, the furtive between-meal snacks, 
drinks, tranquilizers, sleeping pills? Even given the various 
personalities of these women, there must be something in the nature 
of their work, of the lives they lead, that drives them to these escapes. 

This is no less true of the American housewife’s work than it is of 
the work of most American men, on the assembly lines or in 
corporation offices: work that does not fully use a man’s capacities 
leaves in him a vacant, empty need for escape—television, 
tranquilizers, alcohol, sex. But the husbands of the women I 
interviewed were often engaged in work that demanded ability, 
responsibility, and decision. I noticed that when these men were 
saddled with a domestic chore, they polished it off in much less time 
than it seemed to take their wives. But, of course, for them this was 
never the work that justified their lives. Whether they put more 
energy into it for this reason, just to get it over with, or whether 
housework did not have to take so much of their energy, they did it 
more quickly and sometimes even seemed to enjoy it more. 

Social critics, during the togetherness era, often complained that 
men’s careers suffered because of all this housework. But most 
husbands of the women I interviewed didn’t seem to let housework 
interfere with their careers. When husbands did that bit of housework 
evenings and weekends because their wives had careers, or because 
their wives had made such a career of housework they could not get it 
done themselves, or because their wives were too passive, 
dependent, helpless to get it done, or even because the wives left 
housework for their husbands, for revenge—it did not expand. 

But I noticed that housework did tend to expand to fill the time 
available with a few husbands who seemed to be using domestic 
chores as an excuse for not meeting the challenge of their own 
careers. “I wish he wouldn’t insist on vacuuming the whole house on 
Tuesday evenings. It doesn’t need it and he could be working on his 
book,” the wife of a college professor told me. A capable social 
worker herself, she had managed all her professional life to work out 
ways of caring for her house and children without hiring servants. 
With her daughter’s help, she did her own thorough housecleaning on 
Saturday; it didn’t need vacuuming on Tuesday. 

To do the work that you are capable of doing is the mark of 
maturity. It is not the demands of housework and children, or the 
absence of servants, that keep most American women from growing 
up to do the work of which they are capable. In an earlier era when 



servants were plentiful, most of the middle-class women who hired 
them did not use their freedom to take a more active part in society; 
they were co nfi ned by “woman’s role” to leisure. In countries like 
Israel and Russia, where women are expected to be more than just 
housewives, servants scarcely exist, and yet home and children and 
love are evidently not neglected. 

It is the mystique of feminine fulfillment, and the immaturity it 
breeds, that prevents women from doing the work of which they are 
capable. It is not strange that women who have lived for ten or twenty 
years within the mystique, or who adjusted to it so young that they 
have never experienced being on their own, should be afraid to face 
the test of real work in the world and cling to their identity as 
housewives—even if, thereby, they doom themselves to feeling 
“empty, useless, as if I do not exist.” That housewifery can, must, 
expand to fill the time available when there is no other purpose in 
life seems fairly evident. After all, with no other purpose in her life, 
if the housework were done in an hour, and the children off to school, 
the bright, energetic housewife would find the emptiness of her days 
unbearable. 

So a Scarsdale woman fired her maid, and even doing her own 
housework and the usual community work, could not use up all her 
energy. “We solved the problem,” she said, speaking of herself and a 
friend who had tried to commit suicide. “We go bowling three 
mornings a week. Otherwise, we’d go out of our minds. At least, now 
we can sleep at night.” “There’s always some way you can get rid of 
it,” I heard one woman saying to another over lunch at Schrafft’s, 
debating somewhat listlessly what to do with the “afternoon off’ from 
housewifery that their doctors had ordered. Diet foods and exercise 
salons have become a lucrative business in that futile battle to take 
off the fat that cannot be turned into human energy by the American 
housewife. It is slightly shocking to think that intelligent, educated 
American women are forced to “get rid of’ their creative human 
energy by eating a chalky powder and wrestling with a machine. But 
no one is shocked to realize that getting rid of women’s creative 
energy, rather than using it for some larger purpose in society, is the 
very essence of being a housewife. 

To live according to the feminine mystique depends on a reversal 
of history, a devaluation of human progress. To get women back into 
the home again, not like the Nazis, by ordering them there, but by 
“propaganda with a view to restoring woman’s sense of prestige and 



self-esteem as women, actual or potential mothers.. .women who live 
as women,” meant that women had to resist their own “technological 
unemployment.” The canning plants and bakeries did not close down, 
but even the mystique makers felt the need to defend themselves 
against the question, “are we, in suggesting that women might, of their 
own volition, recapture some of their functions around the home, such 
as cooking, preserving and decorating, trying to turn back the clock of 
progress?”— 

Progress is not progress, they argued; in theory, the freeing of 
women from household drudgery liberates them for the cultivation of 
higher aims, but “as such aims are understood, many are called and 
few are chosen, among men no less than among women.” Therefore, 
let all women recapture that work in the home which all women can 
do easily—and let society stage-manage it so that prestige for women 
“be shifted emphatically to those women recognized as serving 
society most fully as women.” 

For fifteen years and longer, there has been a propaganda 
campaign, as unanimous in this democratic nation as in the most 
efficient of dictatorships, to give women “prestige” as housewives. 
But can the sense of self in woman, which once rested on necessary 
work and achievement in the home, be re-created by housework that 
is no longer really necessary or really uses much ability—in a 
country and at a time when women can be free, finally, to move on to 
something more. It is wrong for a woman, for whatever reason, to 
spend her days in work that is not moving as the world around her is 
moving, in work that does not truly use her creative energy. Women 
themselves are discovering that though there is always “some way 
you can get rid of it,” they can have no peace until they begin to use 
their abilities. 

Surely there are many women in America who are happy at the 
moment as housewives, and some whose abilities are fully used in 
the housewife role. But happiness is not the same thing as the 
aliveness of being fully used. Nor is human intelligence, human 
ability, a static thing. Housework, no matter how it is expanded to fill 
the time available, can hardly use the abilities of a woman of average 
or normal human intelligence, much less the fifty per cent of the 
female population whose intelligence, in childhood, was above 
average. 

Some decades ago, certain institutions concerned with the 
mentally retarded discovered that housework was peculiarly suited to 


the capacities of feeble-minded girls. In many towns, inmates of 
institutions for the mentally retarded were in great demand as 
houseworkers, and housework was much more difficult then than it is 
now. 

Basic decisions as to the upbringing of children, interior 
decoration, menu-planning, budget, education, and recreation do 
involve intelligence, of course. But as it was put by one of the few 
home-and-family experts who saw the real absurdity of the feminine 
mystique, most housework, the part that still takes the most time, “can 
be capably handled by an eight-year-old child.” 

The role of the housewife is, therefore, analogous to that of 
the president of a corporation who would not only determine 
policies and make over-all plans but also spend the major part 
of his time and energy in such activities as sweeping the plant 
and oiling machines. Industry, of course, is too thrifty of the 
capacities of its personnel to waste them in such fashion. 

The true satisfaction of “creating a home,” the personal 
relationship with husband and children, the atmosphere of 
hospitality, serenity, culture, warmth, or security a woman gives 
to the home comes by way of her personality, not her broom, 
stove, or dishpan. For a woman to get a rewarding sense of total 
creation by way of the multiple monotonous chores that are her 
daily lot would be as irrational as for an assembly line worker 
to rejoice that he had created an automobile because he 
tightened a bolt. It is difficult to see how clearing up after meals 
three times a day and making out marketing lists (3 lemons, 2 
packages of soap powder, a can of soup), getting at the fuzz in 
the radiators with the hard rubber appliance of the vacuum 
cleaner, emptying wastebaskets and washing bathroom floors 
day after day, week after week, year after year, add up to a sum 
total of anything except minutiae that laid end to end reach 
nowhere.— 


A number of the more disagreeable sexual phenomena of this era 
can be seen now as the inevitable result of that ludicrous consignment 
of millions of women to spend their days at work an eight-year-old 
could do. For no matter how much the “home-and-family career” is 


rationalized to justify such appalling waste of able womanpower; no 
matter how ingeniously the manipulators coin new scientific sounding 
words, “lubrilator” and the like, to give the illusion that dumping the 
clothes in the washing machines is an act akin to deciphering the 
genetic code; no matter how much housework is expanded to fill the 
time available, it still presents little challenge to the adult mind. Into 
this mental vacuum have flooded an endless line of books on gourmet 
cooking, scientific treatises on child care, and above all, advice on 
the techniques of “married love,” sexual intercourse. These, too, 
offer little challenge to the adult mind. The results could almost have 
been predicted. To the great dismay of men, their wives suddenly 
became “experts,” know-it-alls, whose unshakable superiority at 
home, a domain they both occupied, was impossible to compete with, 
and very hard to live with. As Russell Lynes put it, wives began to 
treat their husbands as part-time servants—or the latest new 
appliance.— With a snap course in home economics or marriage and 
family under her belt and copies of Dr. Spock and Dr. Van de Velde 
side by side on the shelf; with all that time, energy and intelligence 
directed on husband, children, and house, the young American wife— 
easily, inevitably, disastrously—began to dominate the family even 
more completely than her “mom.” 


11 



The Sex-Seekers 


I did not do a Kinsey study. But when I was on the trail of the 
problem that has no name, the suburban housewives I interviewed 
would often give me an explicitly sexual answer to a question that 
was not sexual at all. I would ask about their personal interests, 
ambitions, what they did, or would like to do, not necessarily as 
wives or mothers, but when they were not occupied with their 
husbands or their children or their housework. The question might 
even be what they were doing with their education. But some of these 
women simply assumed that I was asking about sex. Was the problem 
that has no name a sexual problem, after all? I might have thought so, 
except that when these women spoke of sex, there was a false note, a 
strange unreal quality about their words. They made mysterious 
allusions or broad hints; they were eager to be asked about sex; even 
if I did not ask, they often took pride in recounting the explicit details 
of some sexual adventure. They were not making them up; these 
adventures were real enough. But what made them sound unsexual, so 
unreal? 

A thirty-eight-year-old mother of four told me sex was the only 
thing that made her “feel alive.” But something had gone wrong; her 
husband did not give her that feeling anymore. They went through the 
motions, but he was not really interested. She was beginning to feel 
contemptuous of him in bed. “I need sex to feel alive, but I never 
really feel him,” she said. 

In a flat, matter-of-fact tone that added to the unreality, a thirty- 
year-old mother of five, calmly knitting a sweater, said she was 
thinking of going away, to Mexico perhaps, to live with a man with 
whom she was having an affair. She did not love him, but she thought 
if she gave herself to him “completely” she might find the feeling that 
she knew now was “the only important thing in life.” What about the 
children? Vaguely, she guessed she would take them along—he 
wouldn’t mind. What was the feeling she was looking for? She had 
found it at first with her husband, she supposed. At least she 



remembered that when she married him—she was eighteen—she had 
“felt so happy I wanted to die.” But he did not “give himself 
completely” to her; he gave so much of himself to his work. So she 
found that feeling for a while, she thought, with her children. Shortly 
after she weaned her fifth baby from the breast, at three, she had her 
first affair. She discovered “it gave me that wonderful feeling again, 
to give my whole self to someone else.” But that affair could not last; 
he had too many children, so did she. He said when they broke up, 
“You’ve given me such a feeling of identity.” And she wondered, 
“what about my own identity?” So she went off by herself for a month 
that summer, leaving the children with her husband. “I was looking 
for something, I’m not sure what, but the only way I get that feeling is 
when I’m in love with someone.” She had another affair, but that time 
the feeling did not appear. So with this new one, she wanted to go 
away completely. “Now that I know how to get that feeling,” she 
said, knitting calmly, “I will simply keep trying until I find it again.” 

She did take off for Mexico with that shadowy, faceless man, 
taking her five children with her; but six months later, she was back, 
children and all. Evidently she did not find her phantom “feeling.” 
And whatever happened, it was not real enough to affect her 
marriage, which went on as before. Just what was the feeling she 
expected to get from sex? And why was it, somehow, always out of 
reach? Does sex become unreal, a phantasy, when a person needs it 
to feel “alive,” to feel “my own identity”? 

In another suburb, I spoke to an attractive woman in her late 
thirties who had “cultural” interests, though they were rather vague 
and unfocused. She started paintings which she did not finish, raised 
money for concerts she did not listen to, said she had not “found her 
medium yet.” I discovered that she engaged in a sort of sexual status¬ 
seeking which had the same vague, unfocused pretentions as her 
cultural dabblings, and in fact, was part of it. She boasted of the 
intellectual prowess, the professional distinction, of the man who, 
she hinted, wanted to sleep with her. “It makes you feel proud, like an 
achievement. You don’t want to hide it. You want everyone to know, 
when it’s a man of his stature,” she told me. How much she really 
wanted to sleep with this man, professional stature or no, was 
another question. I later learned from her neighbors that she was a 
community joke. Everyone did indeed “know,” but her sexual 
offerings were so impersonal and predictable that only a newcomer 
husband would take them seriously enough to respond. 



But the evidently insatiable sexual need of a slightly younger 
mother of four in that same suburb was hardly a joke. Her sex¬ 
seeking, somehow never satisfied despite affair after affair, mixed 
with much indiscriminate “extramarital petting,” as Kinsey would 
have put it, had real and disastrous consequences on at least two 
other marriages. These women and others like them, the suburban 
sex-seekers, lived literally within the narrow boundaries of the 
feminine mystique. They were intelligent, but strangely “incomplete.” 
They had given up attempts to make housework or community work 
expand to fill the time available; they turned instead to sex. But still 
they were unfulfilled. Their husbands did not satisfy them, they said, 
extramarital affairs were no better. In terms of the feminine mystique, 
if a woman feels a sense of personal “emptiness,” if she is 
unfulfilled, the cause must be sexual. But why, then, doesn’t sex ever 
satisfy her? 

Just as college girls used the sexual phantasy of married life to 
protect them from the conflicts and growing pains and work of a 
personal commitment to science, or art, or society, are these married 
women putting into their insatiable sexual search the aggressive 
energies which the feminine mystique forbids them to use for larger 
human purposes? Are they using sex or sexual phantasy to fill needs 
that are not sexual? Is that why their sex, even when it is real, seems 
like phantasy? Is that why, even when they experience orgasm, they 
feel “unfulfilled”? Are they driven to this never-satisfied sexual 
seeking because, in their marriages, they have not found the sexual 
fulfillment which the feminine mystique promises? Or is that feeling 
of personal identity, of fulfillment, they seek in sex something that sex 
alone cannot give? 

Sex is the only frontier open to women who have always lived 
within the confines of the feminine mystique. In the past fifteen years, 
the sexual frontier has been forced to expand perhaps beyond the 
limits of possibility, to fill the time available, to fill the vacuum 
created by denial of larger goals and purposes for American women. 
The mounting sex-hunger of American women has been documented 
ad nauseam—by Kinsey, by the sociologists and novelists of 
suburbia, by the mass media, ads, television, movies, and women’s 
magazines that pander to the voracious female appetite for sex 
phantasy. It is not an exaggeration to say that several generations of 
able American women have been successfully reduced to sex 
creatures, sex-seekers. But something has evidently gone wrong. 



Instead of fulfilling the promise of infinite orgastic bliss, sex in 
the America of the feminine mystique is becoming a strangely joyless 
national compulsion, if not a contemptuous mockery The sex-glutted 
novels become increasingly explicit and increasingly dull; the sex 
kick of the women’s magazines has a sickly sadness; the endless flow 
of manuals describing new sex techniques hint at an endless lack of 
excitement. This sexual boredom is betrayed by the ever-growing 
size of the Hollywood starlet’s breasts, by the sudden emergence of 
the male phallus as an advertising “gimmick.” Sex has become 
depersonalized, seen in terms of these exaggerated symbols. But of 
all the strange sexual phenomena that have appeared in the era of the 
feminine mystique, the most ironic are these—the frustrated sexual 
hunger of American women has increased, and their conflicts over 
femininity have intensified, as they have reverted from independent 
activity to search for their sole fulfillment through their sexual role in 
the home. And as American women have turned their attention to the 
exclusive, explicit, and aggressive pursuit of sexual fulfillment, or the 
acting-out of sexual phantasy, the sexual disinterest of American men 
and their hostility toward women, have also increased. 

I found evidence of these phenomena everywhere. There is, as I 
have said, an air of exaggerated unreality about sex today, whether it 
is pictured in the frankly lascivious pages of a popular novel or in the 
curious, almost asexual bodies of the women who pose for fashion 
photographs. According to Kinsey, there has been no increase in 
sexual “outlet” in recent decades. But in the past decade there has 
been an enormous increase in the American preoccupation with sex 
and sexual phantasy. - 

In January, 1950, and again in January, 1960, a psychologist 
studied every reference to sex in American newspapers, magazines, 
television and radio programs, plays, popular songs, best-selling 
novels and nonfiction books. He found an enormous increase in 
explicit references to sexual desires and expressions (including 
“nudity, sex organs, scatology, ‘obscenity,’ lasciviousness and sexual 
intercourse”). These constituted over fifty per cent of the observed 
references to human sexuality, with “extramarital coitus” (including 
“fornication, adultery, sexual promiscuity, prostitution and venereal 
disease”) in second place. In American media there were more than 2 
1/2 times as many references to sex in 1960 as in 1950, an increase 
from 509 to 1,341 “permissive” sex references in the 200 media 
studied. The so-called “men’s magazines” not only reached new 


excesses in their preoccupation with specific female sex organs, but a 
rash of magazines blossomed frankly geared to homosexuality. The 
most striking new sexual phenomenon, however, was the increased 
and evidently “insatiable” lasciviousness of best-selling novels and 
periodical fiction, whose audience is primarily women. 

Despite his professional approval of the “permissive” attitude to 
sex compared to its previous hypocritical denial, the psychologist 
was moved to speculate: 

Descriptions of sex organs...are so frequent in modern 
novels that one wonders whether they have become requisite for 
sending a work of fiction into the best-selling lists. Since the 
old, mild depictions of intercourse have seemingly lost their 
ability to excite, and even sex deviations have now become 
commonplace in modern fiction, the current logical step seems 
to be detailed descriptions of the sex organs themselves. It is 
difficult to imagine what the next step in salaciousness will be.- 


From 1950 to 1960 the interest of men in the details of intercourse 
paled before the avidity of women—both as depicted in these media, 
and as its audience. Already by 1950 the salacious details of the sex 
act to be found in men’s magazines were outnumbered by those in 
fiction best-sellers sold mainly to women. 

During this same period, the women’s magazines displayed an 
increased preoccupation with sex in a rather sickly disguise.- Such 
“health” features as “Making Marriage Work,” “Can This Marriage 
Be Saved,” “Tell Me, Doctor,” described the most intimate sexual 
details in moralistic guise as “problems,” and women read about 
them in much the same spirit as they had read the case histories in 
their psychology texts. Movies and the theater betrayed a growing 
preoccupation with diseased or perverted sex, each new film and 
each new play a little more sensational than the last in its attempt to 
shock or titillate. 

At the same time one could see, almost in parallel step, human 
sexuality reduced to its narrowest physiological limits in the 
numberless sociological studies of sex in the suburbs and in the 
Kinsey investigations. The two Kinsey reports, in 1948 and 1953, 
treated human sexuality as a status-seeking game in which the goal 


was the greatest number of “outlets,” orgasms achieved equally by 
masturbation, nocturnal emissions during dreams, intercourse with 
animals, and in various postures with the other sex, pre-extra-or post- 
marital. What the Kinsey investigators reported and the way they 
reported it, no less than the sex-glutted novels, magazines, plays and 
novels, were all symptoms of the increasing depersonalization, 
immaturity, joylessness and spurious senselessness of our sexual 
overpreoccupation. 

That this spiral of sexual “lust, luridness and lasciviousness” was 
not exactly a sign of healthy affirmation of human intercourse became 
apparent as the image of males lusting after women gave way to the 
new image of women lusting after males. Exaggerated, perverted 
extremes of the sex situations seemed to be necessary to excite hero 
and audience alike. Perhaps the best example of this perverse 
reversal was the Italian movie La Dolce Vita, which with all its 
artistic and symbolic pretentions, was a hit in America because of its 
much-advertised sexual titillation. Though a comment on Italian sex 
and society, this particular movie was in the chief characteristics of 
its sexual preoccupation devastatingly pertinent to the American 
scene. 

As is increasingly the case in American novels, plays and movies, 
the sex-seekers were mainly the women, who were shown as 
mindless over-or under-dressed sex creatures (the Hollywood star) 
and hysterical parasites (the journalist’s girl friend). In addition, 
there was the promiscuous rich girl who needed the perverse 
stimulation of the borrowed prostitute’s bed, the aggressively sex- 
hungry women in the candlelit “hide and seek” castle orgy, and 
finally the divorcee who performed her writhing strip tease to a 
lonely, bored and indifferent audience. 

All the men, in fact, were too bored or too busy to be bothered. 
The indifferent, passive hero drifted from one sex-seeking woman to 
another—a Don Juan, an implied homosexual, drawn in phantasy to 
the asexual little girl, just out of reach across the water. The 
exaggerated extremes of the sex situations end finally in a 
depersonalization that creates a bloated boredom—in hero and 
audience alike. (The very tedium of depersonalized sex may also 
explain the declining audience of Broadway theaters, Hollywood 
movies and the American novel.) Long before the final scenes of La 
Dolce Vita —when they all go out to stare at that huge bloated dead 
fish—the message of the movie was made quite clear: “the sweet 



life” is dull. 

The image of the aggressive female sex-seeker also comes across 
in novels like Peyton Place and The Chapman Report —which 
consciously cater to the female hunger for sexual phantasy. Whether 
or not this fictional picture of the over-lusting female means that 
American women have become avid sex-seekers in real life, at least 
they have an insatiable appetite for books dealing with the sexual act 
—an appetite that, in fiction and real life, does not always seem to be 
shared by the men. This discrepancy between the sexual 
preoccupation of American men and women—in fiction or reality— 
may have a simple explanation. Suburban housewives, in particular, 
are more often sex-seekers than sex-finders, not only because of the 
problems posed by children coming home from school, cars parked 
overtime in driveways, and gossiping servants, but because, quite 
simply, men are not all that available. Men in general spend most of 
their hours in pursuits and passions that are not sexual, and have less 
need to make sex expand to fill the time available. So, from teen age 
to late middle age, American women are doomed to spend most of 
their lives in sexual phantasy. Even when the sexual affair—or the 
“extramarital petting” which Kinsey found on the increase—is real, it 
never is as real as the mystique has led the woman to believe. 

As the male author of The Exurbanites puts it: 

While her partner may be, and probably is, engaged in 
something quite casual to him, accompanied, of course, by 
verbal blandishments designed to persuade her of just the 
opposite, she is often quite genuinely caught up in what she 
conceives to be the real love of her life. Dismayed by the 
inadequacies of her marriage, confused and unhappy, angry and 
often humiliated by the behavior of her husband, she is 
psychologically prepared for the man who will skillfully and 
judiciously apply charm, wit and seductive behavior.... So, at 
the beach parties, at the Saturday night parties, on the long car 
rides from place to place—on all of which occasions the 
couples naturally split up—the first words can be spoken, the 
ground first prepared, the first fantasies conjured up, the first 
meaningful glance exchanged, the first desperate kiss snatched. 
And often, later, when the woman realizes that what was 
important to her was casual to him, she can cry and then she can 



dry her tears and look around again.- 


But what happens when a woman bases her whole identity on her 
sexual role; when sex is necessary to make her “feel alive”? To state 
it quite simply, she puts impossible demands on her own body, her 
“femaleness,” as well as on her husband and his “maleness.” A 
marriage counselor told me that many of the young suburban wives he 
dealt with make “such heavy demands on love and marriage, but there 
is no excitement, no mystery, sometimes almost literally nothing 
happens.” 

It’s something she has been trained and educated for, all this 
sexual information and preoccupation, this clearly laid out 
pattern that she must devote herself to becoming a wife and 
mother. There is no wonder of two strangers, man and woman, 
separate beings, finding each other. It’s all laid out ahead of 
time, a script that’s being followed without the struggle, the 
beauty, the mysterious awe of life. And so she says to him, do 
something, make me feel something, but there is no power within 
herself to evoke this. 


A psychiatrist states that he has often seen sex “die a slow, 
withering death” when women, or men, use the family “to make up in 
closeness and affection for failure to achieve goals and satisfactions 
in the wider community.”- Sometimes, he told me, “there is so little 
real life that finally even the sex deteriorates, and gradually dies, and 
months go by without any desire, though they are young people.” The 
sexual act “tends to become mechanized and depersonalized, a 
physical release that leaves the partners even lonelier after the act 
than before. The expression of tender sentiment shrivels. Sex 
becomes the arena for the struggle for dominance and control. Or it 
becomes a drab, hollow routine, carried out on schedule.” 

Even though they find no satisfaction in sex, these women continue 
their endless search. For the woman who lives according to the 
feminine mystique, there is no road to achievement, or status, or 
identity, except the sexual one: the achievement of sexual conquest, 
status as a desirable sex object, identity as a sexually successful wife 


and mother. And yet because sex does not really satisfy these needs, 
she seeks to buttress her nothingness with things, until often even sex 
itself, and the husband and the children on whom the sexual identity 
rests, become possessions, things. A woman who is herself only a 
sexual object, lives finally in a world of objects, unable to touch in 
others the individual identity she lacks herself. 

Is it the need for some kind of identity or achievement that drives 
suburban housewives to offer themselves so eagerly to strangers and 
neighbors—and that makes husbands “furniture” in their own homes? 
In a recent novel about suburban adultery, the male author says 
through a butcher who takes advantage of the lonely housewives in 
the neighborhood: 

“Do you know what America is? It’s a big, soapy dishpan of 
boredom...and no husband can understand that soapy dishpan. 
And a woman can’t explain it to another woman because they’ve 
all got their hands in that same soapy boredom. So all a man has 
to be is understanding. Yes, baby, I know, I know, you’ve got a 
miserable life, here’re some flowers, here’s some perfume, 
here’s ‘I love you,’ take off your pants.... You, me, we’re 
furniture in our own homes. But if we go next door, ahh! Next 
door, we’re heroes! They’re all looking for romance because 
they’ve learned it from books and movies. And what can be 
more romantic than a man who’s willing to risk your husband’s 
shotgun to have you... .And the only exciting thing about this guy 
is that he is a stranger...she doesn’t own him. She tells herself 
she’s in love, and she’s willing to risk her home, her happiness, 
her pride, everything, just to be with this stranger who fills her 
once a week.... Anyplace you’ve got a housewife, you’ve also 
got a potential mistress for a stranger.”- 


Kinsey, from his interviews of 5,940 women, found that American 
wives, especially of the middle class, after ten or fifteen years of 
marriage, reported greater sexual desire than their husbands seemed 
to satisfy. One out of four, by the age of forty, had engaged in some 
extramarital activity—usually quite sporadic. Some seemed 
insatiably capable of “multiple orgasms.” A growing number engaged 
in the “extramarital petting” more characteristic of adolescence. 


Kinsey also found that the sexual desire of American husbands, 
especially in the middle-class educated groups, seemed to wane as 
their wives’ increased.- 

But even more disturbing than the signs of increased sexual 
hunger, unfulfilled, among American housewives in this era of the 
feminine mystique are the signs of increased conflict over their own 
femaleness. There is evidence that the signs of feminine sexual 
conflict, often referred to by the euphemism of “female troubles,” 
occur earlier than ever, and in intensified form, in this era when 
women have sought to fulfill themselves so early and exclusively in 
sexual terms. 

The chief of the gynecological service of a famous hospital told 
me that he sees with increasing frequency in young mothers the same 
impairment of the ovarian cycle—vaginal discharge, delayed 
periods, irregularities in menstrual flow and duration of flow, 
sleeplessness, fatigue syndrome, physical disability—that he used to 
see only in women during menopause. He said: 

The question is whether these young mothers will be 
pathologically blown apart when they lose their reproductive 
function. I see plenty of women with these menopausal 
difficulties which are activated, I’m sure, by the emptiness of 
their lives. And by simply having spent the last 28 years hanging 
on to the last child until there’s nothing left to hang on to. In 
contrast, women who’ve had children, sexual relations but who 
somehow have much more whole-hearted personalities, without 
continually having to rationalize themselves as female by having 
one more baby and holding on to it, have very few hot flashes, 
insomnia, nervousness, jitteriness. 

The ones with female troubles are the ones who have denied 
their femininity, or are pathologically female. But we see these 
symptoms now in more and more young wives, in their 20’s, 
young women who are fatally invested in their children, who 
have not developed resources, other than their children— 
coming in with the same impairments of the ovarian cycle, 
menstrual difficulties, characteristic of the menopause. A 
woman 22 years old, who’s had three children, with symptoms 
more frequently seen with menopause...I say to her, “the only 
trouble with you is that you’ve had too many babies too fast” 


and reserve to myself the opinion “your personality has not 
developed far enough.” 


At this same hospital, studies have been made of women 
recovering from hysterectomy, women with menstrual complaints, 
and women with difficult pregnancies. The ones who suffered the 
most pain, nausea, vomiting, physical and emotional distress 
depression, apathy, anxiety, were women “whose lives revolved 
almost exclusively around the reproductive function and its 
gratification in motherhood. A prototype of this attitude was 
expressed by one woman who said, ‘In order to be a woman, I have 
to be able to have children.” - The ones who suffered least had 
“well-integrated egos,” had resources of the intellect and were 
directed outward in their interests, even in the hospital, rather than 
preoccupied with themselves and their sufferings. 

Obstetricians have seen this too. One told me: 

It’s a funny thing. The women who have the backaches, the 
bleeding, the difficult pregnancy and delivery, are the ones who 
think their whole purpose in life is to have babies. Women who 
have other interests than just being reproductive machines have 
less trouble having babies. Don’t ask me to explain it. I’m no 
psychiatrist. But we’ve all noticed it. 


Another gynecologist spoke of many patients in this era of 
“femaleness-fulfilled” to whom neither having babies nor sexual 
intercourse brought “fulfillment.” They were, in his words: 

Women who feel very unsure about their sex and need to 
have children again and again to prove that they are feminine; 
women who have the fourth or fifth child because they can’t 
think of anything else to do; women who are dominant and this is 
something else to dominate; and then I have hundreds of patients 
who are college girls who don’t know what to do with 
themselves, their mothers bring them in for diaphragms. Because 
they are immature, going to bed means nothing—it is like taking 
medicine, no orgasm, nothing. For them getting married is an 


evasion. 


The high incidence of cramps with menstruation, nausea and 
vomiting during pregnancy, depression with childbirth, and severe 
physiological and psychological distress at menopause have come to 
be accepted as a “normal” part of feminine biology.- Are these 
stigmata that mark the stages of the female sexual cycle— 
menstruation, pregnancy, menopause—part of the fixed and eternal 
nature of women as they are popularly assumed to be, or are they 
somehow related to that unnecessary choice between “femininity” 
and human growth, sex and self? When a woman is a “sex creature,” 
does she see unconsciously in each step of her feminine sexual cycle 
a giving up, a kind of death, of her very reason for existence? These 
women who crowd the clinics are personifications of the feminine 
mystique. The lack of orgasm, the increasing “female troubles,” the 
promiscuous and insatiable sex-seeking, the depression at the moment 
of becoming a mother, the strange eagerness of women to have their 
female sex organs removed by hysterectomies without medical cause 
—all these betray the big lie of the mystique. Like the self-fulfilling 
prophecy of death in Samarra, the feminine mystique, with its outcry 
against loss of femininity, is making it increasingly difficult for 
women to affirm their femininity, and for men to be truly masculine, 
and for either to enjoy human sexual love. 

The air of unreality that hovered over my interviews with 
suburban housewife sex-seekers, the unreality that pervades the sex- 
preoccupied novels, plays, and movies—as it pervades the ritualistic 
sex talk at suburban parties—I suddenly saw for what it was, on an 
island ostensibly far removed from suburbia, where sex-seeking is 
omnipresent, in pure phantasy. During the week, this island is an 
exaggeration of a suburb, for it is utterly removed from outside 
stimuli, from the world of work and politics; the men do not even 
come home at night. The women who were spending the summer 
there were extremely attractive young housewives. They had married 
early; they lived through their husbands and children; they had no 
interest in the world outside the home. Here on this island, unlike the 
suburb, these women had no way to make committees or housework 
expand to fill the time available. But they found a new diversion that 
killed two birds with one stone, a diversion that gave them a spurious 
sense of sexual status, but relieved them of the frightening necessity 


to prove it. On this island, there was a colony of “boys” right out of 
the world of Tennessee Williams. During the week when their 
husbands were working in the city, the young housewives had “wild” 
orgies, all-night parties, with these sexless boys. In a sort of 
humorous puzzlement, a husband who took the boat over 
unexpectedly one midweek to console his bored and lonely wife, 
speculated: “Why do they do it? Maybe it has something to do with 
this place being a matriarchy.” 

Perhaps, too, it had something to do with boredom—there just 
was not anything else to do. But it looked like sex; that’s what made 
it so exciting, even though there was, of course, no sexual contact. 
Perhaps, these housewives and their boyfriends recognized 
themselves in each other. For like the call girl in Truman Capote’s 
Breakfast at Tiffany s who spends the sexless night with the passive 
homosexual, they were equally childlike in their retreat from life. 
And in each other, they sought the same nonsexual reassurance. 

But in the suburbs where most hours of the day there are virtually 
no men at all—to give even the appearance of sex—women who 
have no identity other than sex creatures must ultimately seek their 
reassurance through the possession of “things.” One suddenly sees 
why manipulators cater to sexual hunger in their attempt to sell 
products which are not even remotely sexual. As long as woman’s 
needs for achievement and identity can be channeled into this search 
for sexual status, she is easy prey for any product which presumably 
promises her that status—a status that cannot be achieved by effort or 
achievement of her own. And since that endless search for status as a 
desirable sexual object is seldom satisfied in reality for most 
American housewives (who at best can only try to look like Elizabeth 
Taylor), it is very easily translated into a search for status through the 
possession of objects. 

Thus women are aggressors in suburban status-seeking and their 
search has the same falseness and unreality as their sex-seeking. 
Status, after all, is what men seek and acquire through their work in 
society. A woman’s work—housework—cannot give her status; it 
has the lowliest status of almost any work in society. A woman must 
acquire her status vicariously through her husband’s work. The 
husband himself, and even the children, become symbols of status, for 
when a woman defines herself as a housewife, the house and the 
things in it are, in a sense, her identity; she needs these external 
trappings to buttress her emptiness of self, to make her feel like 



somebody. She becomes a parasite, not only because the things she 
needs for status come ultimately from her husband’s work, but 
because she must dominate, own him, for the lack of an identity of her 
own. If her husband is unable to provide the things she needs for 
status, he becomes an object of contempt, just as she is contemptuous 
of him if he cannot fill her sexual needs. Her very dissatisfaction with 
herself she feels as dissatisfaction with her husband and their sexual 
relations. As a psychiatrist put it: “She demands too much 
satisfaction from her marital relations. Her husband resents it and 
becomes unable to function sexually with her at all.” 

Could this be the reason for the rising tide of resentment among 
the new young husbands at the girls whose only ambition was to be 
their wives? The old hostility against domineering “moms” and 
aggressive career girls may, in the long run, pale before the new male 
hostility for the girls whose active pursuit of the “home career” has 
resulted in a new kind of domination and aggression. To be the tool, 
the sex-instrument, the “man around the house,” is evidently no 
dream-come-true for a man. 

In March, 1962, a reporter noted in Redbook a new phenomenon 
on the suburban scene: that “young fathers feel trapped”: 

Many husbands feel that their wives, firmly quoting 
authorities on home management, child rearing and married 
love, have set up a tightly scheduled, narrowly conceived 
scheme of family living that leaves little room for a husband’s 
authority or point of view. (A husband said “Since I’ve been 
married, I feel I’ve lost all my guts. I don’t feel like a man 
anymore. I’m still young, yet I don’t get much out of life. I don’t 
want advice, but I sometimes feel like something is bursting 
loose inside.”) The husbands named their wives as their chief 
source of frustration, superseding children, employers, finances, 
relatives, community and friends.... The young father is no 
longer free to make his own mistakes or to swing his own 
weight in a family crisis. His wife, having just read Chapter VTI, 
knows exactly what should be done. 


The article goes on to quote a social worker: 



The modern wife’s insistence on achieving sexual 
satisfaction for herself may pose a major problem for her 
husband. A husband can be teased, flattered and cajoled into 
performing as an expert lover. But if his wife scorns and 
upbraids him as though he had proved unable to carry a trunk up 
the attic stairs, she is in for trouble.... It’s alarming to note that 
five years after marriage, a sizable number of American 
husbands have committed adultery and a much larger proportion 
are seriously tempted to do so. Often, infidelity is less a search 
for pleasure than a means of self-assertion. 


Four years ago, I interviewed a number of wives on a certain 
pseudo-rural road in a fashionable suburb. They had everything they 
wanted: lovely houses, a number of children, attentive husbands. 
Today, on that same road, there are a growing spate of dream-houses 
in which, for various and sometimes unaccountable reasons, the 
wives now live alone with the children, while the husbands— 
doctors, lawyers, account chiefs—have moved to the city. Divorce, 
in America, according to the sociologists, is in almost every instance 
sought by the husband, even if the wife ostensibly gets it— There are, 
of course, many reasons for divorce, but chief among them seems to 
be the growing aversion and hostility that men have for the feminine 
millstones hanging around their necks, a hostility that is not always 
directed at their wives, but at their mothers, the women they work 
with—in fact, women in general. 

According to Kinsey, the majority of the American middle-class 
males’ sexual outlets are not in relations with their wives after the 
fifteenth year of marriage; at fifty-five, one out of two American men 
is engaging in extramarital sex.— This male sex-seeking—the office 
romance, the casual or intense affair, even the depersonalized sex- 
for-sex’s-sake satirized in the recent movie The Apartment —is, as 
often as not, motivated simply by the need to escape from the 
devouring wife. Sometimes the man seeks the human relationship that 
got lost when he became merely an appendage to his wife’s 
aggressive “home career.” Sometimes his aversion to his wife finally 
makes him seek in sex an object totally divorced from any human 
relationship. Sometimes, in phantasy more often than in fact, he seeks 
a girl-child, a Lolita, as sexual object—to escape that grownup 


woman who is devoting all her aggressive energies, as well as her 
sexual energies, to living through him. There is no doubt that male 
outrage against women—and inevitably, against sex—has increased 
enormously in the era of the feminine mystique.— As a man wrote in a 
letter to the Village Voice , New York’s Greenwich Village 
newspaper, in February, 1962: “It isn’t a problem anymore of 
whether White is too good to marry Black, or vice versa, but whether 
women are good enough to marry men, since women are on the way 
out.” 

The public symbol of this male hostility is the retreat of American 
playwrights and novelists from the problems of the world to an 
obsession with images of the predatory female, the passive martyred 
male hero (in homo-or heterosexual clothes), the promiscuous 
childlike heroine, and the physical details of arrested sexual 
development. It is a special world, but not so special that millions of 
men and women, boys and girls cannot identify with it. Tennessee 
Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer” is a flagrant example of this 
world. 

The aging homosexual hero from an old Southern family, haunted 
by the monstrous birds that devour baby sea turtles, has wasted his 
life in pursuit of his lost golden youth. He himself has been “eaten” 
by his seductively feminine mother, just as, in the end, he is literally 
eaten by a band of young boys. It is significant that the hero of this 
play never appears; he is without a face, without a body. The only 
undeniably “real” character is the man-eating mother. She appears 
again and again in Williams’ plays and in the plays and novels of his 
contemporaries, along with the homosexual sons, the 
nymphomaniacal daughters, and the revengeful male Don Juans. All 
of these plays are an agonized shout of obsessed love-hate against 
women. Significantly, a great many of these plays are written by 
Southern writers, where the “femininity” which the mystique 
enshrines remains most intact. 

This male outrage is the result, surely, of an implacable hatred for 
the parasitic women who keep their husbands and sons from growing 
up, who keep them immersed at that sickly level of sexual phantasy. 
For the fact is that men, too, are now being drawn away from the 
large world of reality into the stunted world of sexual phantasy in 
which their daughters, wives, mothers have been forced to look for 
“fulfillment.” And, for men too, sex itself is taking on the unreal 
character of phantasy—depersonalized, dissatisfying, and finally 


inhuman. 

Is there, after all, a link between what is happening to the women 
in America and increasingly overt male homosexuality? According to 
the feminine mystique, the “masculinization” of American women 
which was caused by emancipation, education, equal rights, careers, 
is producing a breed of increasingly “feminine” men. But is this the 
real explanation? As a matter of fact, the Kinsey figures showed no 
increase in homosexuality in the generations which saw the 
emancipation of women. The Kinsey report revealed in 1948 that 37 
per cent of American men had had at least some homosexual 
experience, that 13 per cent were predominantly homosexual (for at 
least three years between 16 and 55), and 4 per cent exclusively 
homosexual—some 2,000,000 men. But there was “no evidence that 
the homosexual group involved more males or fewer males today 
than it did among older generations.”— 

Whether or not there has been an increase in homosexuality in 
America, there has certainly been in recent years an increase in its 
overt manifestations.— I do not think that this is unrelated to the 
national embrace of the feminine mystique. For the feminine mystique 
has glorified and perpetuated in the name of femininity a passive, 
childlike immaturity which is passed on from mothers to sons, as 
well as to daughters. Male homosexuals—and the male Don Juans, 
whose compulsion to test their potency is often caused by 
unconscious homosexuality—are, no less than the female sex-seekers, 
Peter Pans, forever childlike, afraid of age, grasping at youth in their 
continual search for reassurance in some sexual magic. 

The role of the mother in homosexuality was pinpointed by Freud 
and the psychoanalysts. But the mother whose son becomes 
homosexual is usually not the “emancipated” woman who competes 
with men in the world, but the very paradigm of the feminine 
mystique—a woman who lives through her son, whose femininity is 
used in virtual seduction of her son, who attaches her son to her with 
such dependence that he can never mature to love a woman, nor can 
he, often, cope as an adult with life on his own. The love of men 
masks his forbidden excessive love for his mother; his hatred and 
revulsion for all women is a reaction to the one woman who kept him 
from becoming a man. The conditions of this excessive mother-son 
love are complex. Freud wrote: 


In all the cases examined we have ascertained that the later 
inverts go through in their childhood a phase of very intense but 
short-lived fixation on the woman (usually the mother) and after 
overcoming it, they identify themselves with the woman and take 
themselves as the sexual object; that is, proceeding on a 
narcissistic basis, they look for young men resembling 
themselves in persons whom they wish to love as their mother 
loved them— 


Extrapolating from Freud’s insights, one could say that such an 
excess of love-hate is almost implicit in the relationship of mother 
and son—when her exclusive role as wife and mother, her relegation 
to the home, force her to live through her son. Male homosexuality 
was and is far more common than female homosexuality. The father is 
not as often tempted or forced by society to live through or seduce his 
daughter. Not many men become overt homosexuals, but a great many 
have suppressed enough of this love-hate to feel not only a deep 
repugnance for homosexuality, but a general and sublimated revulsion 
for women. 

Today, when not only career, but any serious commitment outside 
the home, are out of bounds for truly “feminine” housewife-mothers, 
the kind of mother-son devotion which can produce latent or overt 
homosexuality has plenty of room to expand to fill the time available. 
The boy smothered by such parasitical mother-love is kept from 
growing up, not only sexually, but in all ways. Homosexuals often 
lack the maturity to finish school and make sustained professional 
commitments. (Kinsey found homosexuality most common among men 
who do not go beyond high school, and least common among college 
graduates.)— The shallow unreality, immaturity, promiscuity, lack of 
lasting human satisfaction that characterize the homosexual’s sex life 
usually characterize all his life and interests. This lack of personal 
commitment in work, in education, in life outside of sex, is hauntingly 
“feminine.” Like the daughters of the feminine mystique, the sons 
spend most of their lives in sexual phantasy; the sad “gay” 
homosexuals may well feel an affinity with the young housewife sex- 
seekers. 

But the homosexuality that is spreading like a murky smog over 
the American scene is no less ominous than the restless, immature 


sex-seeking of the young women who are the aggressors in the early 
marriages that have become the rule rather than the exception. Nor is 
it any less frightening than the passivity of the young males who 
acquiesce to early marriage rather than face the world alone. These 
victims of the feminine mystique start their search for the solace of 
sex at an earlier and earlier age. In recent years, I have interviewed a 
number of sexually promiscuous girls from comfortable suburban 
families, including a number—and this number is growing——of girls 
who marry in their early teens because they are pregnant. Talking to 
these girls, and to the professional workers who are trying to help 
them, one quickly sees that sex, for them, is not sex at all. They have 
not even begun to experience a sexual response, much less 
“fulfillment.” They use sex—pseudo-sex—to erase their lack of 
identity; it seldom matters who the boy is; the girl almost literally 
does not “see” him when she has as yet no sense of herself. Nor will 
she ever have a sense of herself if she uses the easy rationalizations 
of the feminine mystique to evade in sex-seeking the efforts that lead 
to identity. 

Early sex, early marriage, has always been a characteristic of 
underdeveloped civilizations and, in America, of rural and city 
slums. One of the most striking of Kinsey’s findings, however, was 
that a delay in sexual activity was less a characteristic of socio¬ 
economic origin than of the ultimate destination—as measured, for 
instance, by education. A boy from a slum background, who put 
himself through college and became a scientist or judge, showed the 
same postponement of sexual activity in adolescence as others who 
later became scientists or judges, not as others from the same slum 
background. Boys from the right side of the tracks, however, who did 
not finish college or become scientists or judges showed more of that 
earlier sexual activity that was characteristic of the slum.— Whatever 
this indicates about the relationship between sex and the intellect, a 
certain postponement of sexual activity seemed to accompany the 
growth in mental activity required and resulting from higher 
education, and the achievement of the professions of highest value to 
society. 

Among the girls in the Kinsey survey, there even seemed to be a 
relationship between the ultimate level of mental or intellectual 
growth as measured by education, and sexual satisfaction. Girls who 
married in their teens—who, in Kinsey’s cases, usually stopped 



education with high school—started having sexual intercourse five or 
six years earlier than girls who continued their education through 
college or into professional training. This earlier sexual activity did 
not, however, usually lead to orgasm; these girls were still 
experiencing less sexual fulfillment, in terms of orgasm, five, ten and 
fifteen years after marriage than those who had continued their 
education.— As with the promiscuous girls in the suburbs, early 
sexual preoccupation seemed to indicate a weak core of self which 
even marriage did not strengthen. 

Is this the real reason for the kind of compulsive sex-seeking seen 
today in promiscuity, early and late, heterosexual or homosexual? Is 
it a coincidence that the many phenomena of depersonalized sex—sex 
without self, sex for lack of self—are becoming so rampant in the era 
when American women are told to live by sex alone? Is it a 
coincidence that their sons and daughters have selves so weak that 
they resort at an increasingly early age to a dehumanized, faceless 
sex-seeking? Psychiatrists have explained that the key problem in 
promiscuity is usually “low self-esteem,” which often seems to stem 
from an excessive mother-child attachment; the type of sex-seeking is 
relatively irrelevant. As Clara Thompson, speaking of homosexuality, 
says: 


Overt homosexuality may express fear of the opposite sex, 
fear of adult responsibility...it may represent a flight from 
reality into absorption in bodily stimulation very similar to the 
auto-erotic activities of the schizophrenic, or it may be a 
symptom of destructiveness of oneself or others....People who 
have a low self-esteem...have a tendency to cling to their own 
sex because it is less frightening....However, the above 
considerations do not invariably produce homosexuality, for the 
fear of disapproval from the culture and the need to conform 
often drive these very people into marriage. The fact that one is 
married by no means proves that one is a mature person.... The 
mother-child attachment is sometimes found to be the important 
part of the picture.... Promiscuity is possibly more frequent 
among homosexuals than heterosexuals, but its significance in 
the personality structure is very similar in the two. In both, the 
chief interest is in genitals and body stimulation. The person 
chosen to share the experience is not important. The sexual 


activity is compulsive and is the sole interest.— 


Compulsive sexual activity, homosexual or heterosexual, usually 
veils a lack of potency in other spheres of life. Contrary to the 
feminine mystique, sexual satisfaction is not necessarily a mark of 
fulfillment, in woman or man. According to Erich Fromm: 

Often psychoanalysts see patients whose ability to love and 
so be close to others is damaged and yet who function very well 
sexually and indeed make sexual satisfaction a substitute for 
love because their sexual potency is their only power in which 
they have confidence. Their inability to be productive in all 
other spheres of life and the resulting unhappiness is 
counterbalanced and veiled by their sexual activities.— 


There is a similar undertone to the sex-seeking in colleges, even 
though the potential ability to be “productive in all other spheres of 
life” is high. A psychiatrist consultant for Harvard-Radcliffe students 
recently pointed out that college girls often seek “security” in these 
intense sexual relationships because of their own feelings of 
inadequacy, when, probably for the first time in their lives, they have 
to work hard, face real competition, think actively instead of 
passively—which is “not only a strange experience, but almost akin 
to physical pain.” 

The significant facts are the lowered self-esteem and the 
diminution in zest, energy, and capacity to function in a creative 
way. The depression seems to be a kind of declaration of 
dependence, of helplessness, and a muted cry for help as well. 
And it occurs at some time and in varying intensity in practically 
every girl during her career at college.— 


All this may simply represent “the first response of a sensitive, 
naive adolescent to a new, frighteningly complicated and 
sophisticated environment,” the psychiatrist said. But if the 
adolescent is a girl, she evidently should not, like the boy, be 


expected to face the challenge, master the painful work, meet the 
competition. The psychiatrist considers it “normal” that the girl seeks 
her “security” in “love,” even though the boy himself may be 
“strikingly immature, adolescent, and dependent”—“a slender reed, 
at least from the point of view of the girl’s needs.” The feminine 
mystique hides the fact that this early sex-seeking, harmless enough 
for the boy or girl who looks for no more than it offers, cannot give 
these young women that “clearer image of themselves”—the self¬ 
esteem they need and “the vigor to lead satisfying and creative lives.” 
But the mystique does not always hide from the boy the fact that the 
girl’s dependence on him is not really sexual, and that it may stifle 
his growth. Hence the boy’s hostility—even as he helplessly 
succumbs to the sexual invitation. 

A Radcliffe student recently wrote a sensitive account of a boy’s 
growing bitterness at the girl who cannot study without him—a 
bitterness not even stilled by the sex with which they nightly evade 
study together. 

She was bending down the corner of a page and he wanted to 
tell her to stop; the little mechanical action irritated him out of 
all proportion, and he wondered if he was so tense because they 
hadn’t made love for four days...I bet she needs it now, he 
thought, that’s why she’s so quivery, close to tears, and maybe 
that’s why I loused up the exam. But he knew it was not an 
excuse; he felt his resentment heating as he wondered why he 
had not really reviewed.... The clock would never let him 
forget the amount of time he was wasting...he slammed his 
books closed and began to stack them together. Eleanor looked 
up and he saw the terror in her eyes... 

“Look, I’m going to walk you back now,” he said.. .“I’ve got 
to get something done tonight”...He remembered that he had a 
long walk back, but as he bent hurriedly to kiss her she slipped 
her arms around him and he had to pull back hard in order to get 
away. She let go at last, and no longer smiling, she whispered: 
“Hal, don’t go.” He hesitated. “Please, don’t go, please...” She 
strained up to kiss him and when she opened her mouth he felt 
tricked, for if he put his tongue between her lips, he would not 
be able to leave. He kissed her, beginning half-consciously to 
forget that he should go...he pulled her against him, hearing her 
moan with pain and excitation. Then he drew back and said, his 



voice already labored: “Isn’t there anywhere we can go?”.. .She 
was looking around eagerly and hopefully and he wondered 
again, how much of her desire was passion and how much 
grasping: girls used sex to get a hold on you, he knew—it was 
so easy for them to pretend to be excited. — 


These are, of course, the first of the children who grew up under 
the feminine mystique, these youngsters who use sex as such a 
suspiciously easy solace when they face the first hard hurdles in the 
race. Why is it so difficult for these youngsters to endure discomfort, 
to make an effort, to postpone present pleasure for future long-term 
goals? Sex and early marriage are the easiest way out; playing house 
at nineteen evades the responsibility of growing up alone. And even 
if a father tried to get his son to be “masculine,” to be independent, 
active, strong, both mother and father encouraged their daughter in 
that passive, weak, grasping dependence known as “femininity,” 
expecting her, of course, to find “security” in a boy, never expecting 
her to live her own life. 

And so the circle tightens. Sex without self, enshrined by the 
feminine mystique, casts an ever-darkening shadow over man’s 
image of woman and woman’s image of herself. It becomes harder 
for both son and daughter to escape, to find themselves in the world, 
to love another in human intercourse. The million married before the 
age of nineteen, in earlier and earlier travesty of sex-seeking, betray 
an increased immaturity, emotional dependence, and passivity on the 
part of the newest victims of the feminine mystique. The shadow of 
sex without self may be dispelled momentarily in a sunny suburban 
dream house. But what will these childlike mothers and immature 
fathers do to their children, in that phantasy paradise where the 
pursuit of pleasure and things hides the loosening links to complex 
modern reality? What kind of sons and daughters are raised by girls 
who became mothers before they have ever faced that reality, or 
sever their links to it by becoming mothers? 

There are frightening implications for the future of our nation in 
the parasitical softening that is being passed on to the new generation 
of children as a result of our stubborn embrace of the feminine 
mystique. The tragedy of children acting out the sexual phantasies of 
their housewife-mothers is only one sign of the progressive 
dehumanization that is taking place. And in this “acting out” by the 


children, the feminine mystique can finally be seen in all its sick and 
dangerous obsolescence. 



12 



Progressive Dehumanization: The Comfortable Concentration 
Camp 


The voices now deploring American women’s retreat to home 
reassure us that the pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite 
direction. But has it? There are already signs that the daughters of the 
able and energetic women who went back home to live in the 
housewife image find it more difficult than their mothers to move 
forward in the world. Over the past fifteen years a subtle and 
devastating change seems to have taken place in the character of 
American children. Evidence of something similar to the housewife’s 
problem that has no name in a more pathological form has been seen 
in her sons and daughters by many clinicians, analysts, and social 
scientists. They have noted, with increasing concern, a new and 
frightening passivity, softness, boredom in American children. The 
danger sign is not the competitiveness engendered by the Little 
League or the race to get into college, but a kind of infantilism that 
makes the children of the housewife-mothers incapable of the effort, 
the endurance of pain and frustration, the discipline needed to 
compete on the baseball field, or get into college. There is also a 
new vacant sleepwalking, playing-a-part quality of youngsters who 
do what they are supposed to do, what the other kids do, but do not 
seem to feel alive or real in doing it. 

In an eastern suburb in 1960, I heard a high-school sophomore 
stop a psychiatrist who had just given an assembly talk and ask him 
for “the name of that pill that you can take to hypnotize yourself so 
you’ll wake up knowing everything you need for the test without 
studying.” That same winter two college girls on a train to New York 
during the middle of midyear exam week told me they were going to 
some parties to “clear their minds” instead of studying for the exams. 
“Psychology has proved that when you’re really motivated, you learn 
instantly,” one explained. “If the professor can’t make it interesting 
enough so that you know it without working, that’s his fault, not 
yours.” A bright boy who had dropped out of college told me it was a 



waste of his time; “intuition” was what counted, and they didn’t teach 
that at college. He worked a few weeks at a gas station, a month at a 
bookstore. Then he stopped work and spent his time literally doing 
nothing—getting up, eating, going to bed, not even reading. 

I saw this same vacant sleepwalking quality in a thirteen-year-old 
girl I interviewed in a Westchester suburb in an investigation of 
teenage sexual promiscuity. She was barely passing in her school 
work even though she was intelligent; she “couldn’t apply herself,” 
as the guidance counselor put it. She seemed always bored, not 
interested, off in a daze. She also seemed not quite awake, like a 
puppet with someone else pulling the strings, when every afternoon 
she got into a car with a group of older boys who had all “dropped 
out” of school in their search for “kicks.” 

The sense that these new kids are, for some reason, not growing 
up “real” has been seen by many observers. A Texas educator, who 
was troubled because college boys were not really interested in the 
courses they were taking as an automatic passport to the right job, 
discovered they also were not really interested in anything they did 
outside of school either. Mostly, they just “killed time.” A 
questionnaire revealed that there was literally nothing these kids felt 
strongly enough about to die for, as there was nothing they actually 
did in which they felt really alive. Ideas, the conceptual thought 
which is uniquely human, were completely absent from their minds or 
lives. - 

A social critic, one or two perceptive psychoanalysts, tried to 
pinpoint this change in the younger generation as a basic change in the 
American character. Whether for better or worse, whether it was a 
question of sickness or health, they saw that the human personality, 
recognizable by a strong and stable core of self, was being replaced 
by a vague, amorphous “other-directed personality.”- In the 1950’s, 
David Riesman found no boy or girl with that emerging sense of his 
own self which used to mark human adolescence, “though I searched 
for autonomous youngsters in several public schools and several 
private schools. 

At Sarah Lawrence College, where students had taken a large 
responsibility for their own education and for the organization of 
their own affairs, it was discovered that the new generation of 
students was helpless, apathetic, incapable of handling such freedom. 
If left to organize their own activities, no activities were organized; a 


curriculum geared to the students’ own interests no longer worked 
because the students did not have strong interests of their own. 
Harold Taylor, then president of Sarah Lawrence, described the 
change as follows: 

Whereas in earlier years it had been possible to count on the 
strong motivation and initiative of students to conduct their own 
affairs, to form new organizations, to invent new projects either 
in social welfare, or in intellectual fields, it now became clear 
that for many students the responsibility for self-government was 
often a burden to bear rather than a right to be maintained.... 
Students who were given complete freedom to manage their own 
lives and to make their own decisions often did not wish to do 
so.... Students in college seem to find it increasingly difficult to 
entertain themselves, having become accustomed to depend 
upon arranged entertainment in which their role is simply to 
participate in the arrangements already made.... The students 
were unable to plan anything for themselves which they found 
interesting enough to engage in.- 


The educators, at first, blamed this on the caution and 
conservatism of the McCarthy era, the helplessness engendered by 
the atom bomb; later, in the face of Soviet advances in the space race, 
the politicians and public opinion blamed the general “softness” of 
the educators. But, whatever their own weaknesses, the best of the 
educators knew only too well that they were dealing with a passivity 
which the children brought with them to school, a frightening “basic 
passivity which...makes heroic demands on those who must daily 
cope with them in or out of school.”- The physical passivity of the 
younger generation showed itself in a muscular deterioration, finally 
alarming the White House. Their emotional passivity was visible in 
bearded, undisciplined beatnikery—a singularly passionless and 
purposeless form of adolescent rebellion. Juvenile delinquency ratios 
just as high as those in the city slums began to show up in the pleasant 
bedroom suburbs among the children of successful, educated, 
respected and self-respecting members of society, middle-class 
children who had all the “advantages,” all the “opportunities.” A 
movie called “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein” may not have seemed 


funny to parents in West-chester and Connecticut who were visited 
by the vice squad in 1960 because their kids were taking drugs at 
parties in each others’ pine-paneled playrooms. Or the Bergen 
County parents whose kids were arrested in 1962 for mass violation 
of the graves in a suburban cemetery; or the parents in a Long Island 
suburb whose daughters at thirteen were operating a virtual “call 
girl” service. Behind the senseless vandalism, the riots in Florida at 
spring vacation, the promiscuity, the rise in teenage venereal disease 
and illegitimate pregnancies, the alarming dropouts from high school 
and college, was this new passivity. For these bored, lazy, “gimme” 
kids, “kicks” was the only way to kill the monotony of vacant time. 

That this passivity was more than a question of boredom—that it 
signaled a deterioration of the human character—was felt by those 
who studied the behavior of the American GI’s who were prisoners 
of war in Korea in the 1950’s. An Army doctor, Major Clarence 
Anderson, who was allowed to move freely among the prison camps 
to treat the prisoners, observed: 

On the march, in the temporary camps, and in the permanent 
ones, the strong regularly took food from the weak. There was 
no discipline to prevent it. Many men were sick, and these men, 
instead of being helped and nursed by the others, were ignored, 
or worse. Dysentery was common, and it made some men too 
weak to walk. On winter nights, helpless men with dysentery 
were rolled outside the huts by their comrades and left to die in 
the cold.- 


Some thirty-eight per cent of the prisoners died, a higher prisoner 
death rate than in any previous American war, including the 
Revolution. Most prisoners became inert, inactive, withdrawing into 
little shells they had erected against reality. They did nothing to get 
food, firewood, keep themselves clean, or communicate with each 
other. The Major was struck by the fact that these new American GI’s 
almost universally “lacked the old Yankee resourcefulness,” an 
ability to cope with a new and primitive situation. He concluded: 
“This was partly—but only partly, I believe—the result of the 
psychic shock of being captured. It was also, I think, the result of 
some new failure in the childhood and adolescent training of our 


young men—a new softness.” Discounting the Army’s propaganda 
point, an educational psychologist commented: “There was certainly 
something terribly wrong with these young men; not softness, but 
hardness, slickness, and brittleness. I would call it ego-failure—a 
collapse of identity.... Adolescent growth can and should lead to a 
completely human adulthood, defined as the development of a stable 
sense of self. 

The Korean prisoners, in this sense, were models of a new kind 
of American, evidently nurtured in ways “inimical to clarity and 
growth” at the hands of individuals themselves “insufficiently 
characterized” to develop “the kind of character and mind that 
conceives itself too clearly to consent to its own betrayal.” 

The shocked recognition that this passive non-identity was 
“something new in history” came, and only came, when it began to 
show up in the boys. But the apathetic, dependent, infantile, 
purposeless being, who seems so shockingly nonhuman when 
remarked as the emerging character of the new American man, is 
strangely reminiscent of the familiar “feminine” personality as 
defined by the mystique. Aren’t the chief characteristics of femininity 
—which Freud mistakenly related to sexual biology—passivity; a 
weak ego or sense of self; a weak superego or human conscience; 
renunciation of active aims, ambitions, interests of one’s own to live 
through others; incapacity for abstract thought; retreat from activity 
directed outward to the world, in favor of activity directed inward or 
phantasy? 

What does it mean, this emergence now in American boys as well 
as girls, of a personality arrested at the level of infantile phantasy and 
passivity? The boys and girls in whom I saw it were children of 
mothers who lived within the limits of the feminine mystique. They 
were fulfilling their roles as women in the accepted, normal way. 
Some had more than normal ability, and some had more than normal 
education, but they were alike in the intensity of their preoccupation 
with their children, who seemed to be their main and only interest. 

One mother, who was terribly disturbed that her son could not 
learn to read, told me that when he came home with his first report 
card from kindergarten, she was as “excited as a kid myself, waiting 
for someone to ask me out on a date Saturday night.” She was 
convinced that the teachers were wrong when they said he wandered 
around the room in a dream, could not pay attention long enough to do 
the reading-readiness test. Another mother said that she could not 


bear it when her sons suffered any trouble or distress at all. It was as 
if they were herself. She told me: 


I used to let them turn over all the furniture and build houses 
in the living room that would stay up for days, so there was no 
place for me even to sit and read. I couldn’t bear to make them 
do what they didn’t want to do, even take medicine when they 
were sick. I couldn’t bear for them to be unhappy, or fight, or be 
angry at me. I couldn’t separate them from myself somehow. I 
was always understanding, patient. I felt guilty leaving them 
even for an afternoon. I worried over every page of their 
homework; I was always concentrating on being a good mother. 
I was proud that Steve didn’t get in fights with other kids in the 
neighborhood. I didn’t even realize anything was wrong until he 
started doing so badly in school, and having nightmares about 
death, and didn’t want to go to school because he was afraid of 
the other boys. 


Another woman said: 

I thought I had to be there every afternoon when they got 
home from school. I read all the books they were assigned so I 
could help them with their school work. I haven’t been as happy 
and excited for years as the weeks I was helping Mary get her 
clothes ready for college. But I was so upset when she wouldn’t 
take art. That had been my dream, before I got married, of 
course. Maybe it’s better to live your own dreams. 


I do not think it is a coincidence that the increasing passivity— 
and dreamlike unreality—of today’s children has become so 
widespread in the same years that the feminine mystique encouraged 
the great majority of American women—including the most able, and 
the growing numbers of the educated—to give up their own dreams, 
and even their own education, to live through their children. The 
“absorption” of the child’s personality by the middle-class mother— 
already apparent to a perceptive sociologist in the 1940’s—has 
inevitably increased during these years. Without serious interests 



outside the home, and with housework routinized by appliances, 
women could devote themselves almost exclusively to the cult of the 
child from cradle to kindergarten. Even when the children went off to 
school their mothers could share their lives, vicariously and 
sometimes literally To many, their relationship with their children 
became a love affair, or a kind of symbiosis. 

“Symbiosis'” is a biological term; it refers to the process by 
which, to put it simply, two organisms live as one. With human 
beings, when the fetus is in the womb, the mother’s blood supports its 
life; the food she eats makes it grow, its oxygen comes from the air 
she breathes, and she discharges its wastes. There is a biological 
oneness in the beginning between mother and child, a wonderful and 
intricate process. But this relationship ends with the severing of the 
umbilical cord and the birth of the baby into the world as a separate 
human being. 

At this point, child psychologists construe a psychological or 
emotional “symbiosis” between mother and child in which mother 
love takes the place of the amniotic fluid which perpetually bathed 
and fed the fetus in the womb. This emotional symbiosis feeds the 
psyche of the child until he is ready to be psychologically born, as it 
were. Thus the psychological writers—like the literary and religious 
eulogists of mother-love before the psychological era—depict a state 
in which mother and baby still retain a mystical oneness; they are not 
really separate beings. “Symbiosis,” in the hands of the 
psychological popularizers, strongly implied that the constant loving 
care of the mother was absolutely necessary for the child’s growth, 
for an indeterminate number of years. 

But in recent years the “symbiosis” concept has crept with 
increasing frequency into the case histories of disturbed children. 
More and more of the new child pathologies seem to stem from that 
very symbiotic relationship with the mother, which has somehow 
kept children from becoming separate selves. These disturbed 
children seem to be “acting out” the mother’s unconscious wishes or 
conflicts—infantile dreams she had not outgrown or given up, but 
was still trying to gratify for herself in the person of her child. 

The term “acting out” is used in psychotherapy to describe the 
behavior of a patient which is not in accord with the reality of a 
given situation, but is the expression of unconscious infantile wishes 
or phantasy. It sounds mystical to say that the unconscious infantile 
wishes the disturbed child is “acting out” are not his own but his 



mother’s. But therapists can trace the actual steps whereby the 
mother, who is using the child to gratify her own infantile dreams, 
unconsciously pushes him into the behavior which is destructive to 
his growth. The Westchester executive’s wife who had pushed her 
daughter at thirteen into sexual promiscuity had not only been 
grooming her in the development of her sexual charms—in a way that 
completely ignored the child’s own personality—but, even before her 
breasts began to develop, had implanted, by warnings and by a 
certain intensity of questioning, her expectation that the child would 
act out in real life her mother’s phantasies of prostitution. 

It has never been considered pathological for mothers or fathers 
to act out their dreams through their children, except when the dream 
ignores and distorts the reality of the child. Novels, as well as case 
histories, have been written about the boy who became a bad 
businessman because that was his father’s dream for him, when he 
might have been a good violinist; or the boy who ends up in the 
mental hospital to frustrate his mother’s dream of him as a great 
violinist. If in recent years the process has begun to seem 
pathological, it is because the mothers’ dreams which the children 
are acting out have become increasingly infantile. These mothers 
have themselves become more infantile, and because they are forced 
to seek more and more gratification through the child, they are 
incapable of finally separating themselves from the child. Thus, it 
would seem, it is the child who supports life in the mother in that 
“symbiotic” relationship, and the child is virtually destroyed in the 
process. 

This destructive symbiosis is literally built into the feminine 
mystique. And the process is progressive. It begins in one generation, 
and continues into the next, roughly as follows: 

1. By permitting girls to evade tests of reality, and real 
commitments, in school and the world, by the promise of magical 
fulfillment through marriage, the feminine mystique arrests their 
development at an infantile level, short of personal identity, with an 
inevitably weak core of self. 

2. The greater her own infantilism, and the weaker her core of 
self, the earlier the girl will seek “fulfillment” as a wife and mother 
and the more exclusively will she live through her husband and 
children. Thus, her links to the world of reality, and her own sense of 
herself, will become progressively weaker. 

3. Since the human organism has an intrinsic urge to grow, a 



woman who evades her own growth by clinging to the childlike 
protection of the housewife role will—insofar as that role does not 
permit her own growth—suffer increasingly severe pathology, both 
physiological and emotional. Her motherhood will be increasingly 
pathological, both for her and for her children. The greater the 
infantilization of the mother, the less likely the child will be able to 
achieve human selfhood in the real world. Mothers with infantile 
selves will have even more infantile children, who will retreat even 
earlier into phantasy from the tests of reality. 

4. The signs of this pathological retreat will be more apparent in 
boys, since even in childhood boys are expected to commit 
themselves to tests of reality which the feminine mystique permits the 
girls to evade in sexual phantasy. But these very expectations 
ultimately make the boys grow further toward a strong self and make 
the girls the worst victims, as well as the “typhoid Marys” of the 
progressive dehumanization of their own children. 

From psychiatrists and suburban clinicians, I learned how this 
process works. One psychiatrist, Andras Angyal, describes it, not 
necessarily in relation to women, as “neurotic evasion of growth.” 
There are two key methods of evading growth. One is 
“noncommitment”: a man lives his life—school, job, marriage 
—“going through the motions without ever being wholeheartedly 
committed to any actions.” He vaguely experiences himself as 
“playing a role.” On the surface, he may appear to be moving 
normally through life, but what he is actually doing is “going through 
the motions.” 

The other method of evading growth Angyal called the method of 
“vicarious living.” It consists in a systematic denial and repression of 
one’s own personality, and an attempt to substitute some other 
personality, an “idealized conception, a standard of absolute 
goodness by which one tries to live, suppressing all those genuine 
impulses that are incompatible with the exaggerated and unrealistic 
standard,” or simply taking the personality that is “the popular cliche 
of the time.” 

The most frequent manifestation of vicarious living is a 
particularly structured dependence on another person, which is 
often mistaken for love. Such extremely intense and tenacious 
attachments, however, lack all the essentials of genuine love— 
devotion, intuitive understanding, and delight in the being of the 



other person in his own right and in his own way. On the 
contrary, these attachments are extremely possessive and tend to 
deprive the partner of a “life of his own.”...The other person is 
needed not as someone to relate oneself to; he is needed for 
filling out one’s inner emptiness, one’s nothingness. This 
nothingness originally was only a phantasy, but with the 
persistent self-repression it approaches the state of being actual. 

All these attempts at gaining a substitute personality by 
vicarious living fail to free the person from a vague feeling of 
emptiness. The repression of genuine, spontaneous impulses 
leaves the person with a painful emotional vacuousness, almost 
with a sense of nonexistence.. .- 


“Noncommitment” and “vicarious living,” Angyal concludes, 
“can be understood as attempted solutions of the conflict between the 
impulse to grow and the fear of facing new situations”—but, though 
they may temporarily lessen the pressure, they do not actually resolve 
the problem; “their result, even if not their intent, is always an 
evasion of personal growth.” 

Noncommitment and vicarious living are, however, at the very 
heart of our conventional definition of femininity. This is the way the 
feminine mystique teaches girls to seek “fulfillment as women” this is 
the way most American women live today. But if the human organism 
has an innate urge to grow, to expand and become all it can be, it is 
not surprising that the bodies and the minds of healthy women begin 
to rebel as they try to adjust to a role that does not permit this growth. 
Their symptoms which so puzzle the doctors and the analysts are a 
warning sign that they cannot forfeit their own existence, evade their 
own growth, without a battle. 

I have seen this battle being fought by women I interviewed and 
by women of my own community, and unfortunately, it is often a 
losing battle. One young girl, first in high school and later in college, 
gave up all her serious interests and ambitions in order to be 
“popular.” Married early, she played the role of the conventional 
housewife, in much the same way as she played the part of a popular 
college girl. I don’t know at what point she lost track of what was 
real and what was facade, but when she became a mother, she would 
sometimes lie down on the floor and kick her feet in the kind of 
tantrum she was not able to handle in her three-year-old daughter. At 


the age of thirty-eight, she slashed her wrists in attempted suicide. 

Another extremely intelligent woman, who gave up a challenging 
career as a cancer researcher to become a housewife, suffered a 
severe depression just before her baby was born. After she 
recovered she was so “close” to him that she had to stay with him at 
nursery school every morning for four months, or else he went into a 
violent frenzy of tears and tantrums. In first grade, he often vomited in 
the morning when he had to leave her. His violence on the playground 
approached danger to himself and others. When a neighbor took away 
from him a baseball bat with which he was about to hit a child on the 
head, his mother objected violently to the “frustration” of her child. 
She found it extremely difficult to discipline him herself. 

Over a ten-year period, as she went correctly through all the 
motions of motherhood in suburbia, except for this inability to deal 
firmly with her children, she seemed visibly less and less alive, less 
and less sure of her own worth. The day before she hung herself in 
the basement of her spotless split-level house, she took her three 
children for a checkup by the pediatrician, and made arrangements 
for her daughter’s birthday party. 

Few suburban housewives resort to suicide, and yet there is other 
evidence that women pay a high emotional and physical price for 
evading their own growth. They are not, as we now know, the 
biologically weaker of the species. In every age group, fewer women 
die than men. But in America, from the time when women assume 
their feminine sexual role as housewives, they no longer live with the 
zest, the enjoyment, the sense of purpose that is characteristic of true 
human health. 

During the 1950’s, psychiatrists, analysts, and doctors in all fields 
noted that the housewife’s syndrome seemed to become increasingly 
pathological. The mild undiagnosable symptoms—bleeding blisters, 
malaise, nervousness, and fatigue of young housewives—became 
heart attacks, bleeding ulcers, hypertension, bronchopneumonia; the 
nameless emotional distress became a psychotic breakdown. Among 
the new housewife-mothers, in certain sunlit suburbs, this single 
decade saw a fantastic increase in “maternal psychoses,” mild-to- 
suicidal depressions or hallucinations over childbirth. According to 
medical records compiled by Dr. Richard Gordon and his wife, 
Katherine (psychiatrist and social psychologist, respectively), in the 
suburbs of Bergen County, N.J., during the 1950’s, approximately one 
out of three young mothers suffered depression or psychotic 



breakdown over childbirth. This compared to previous medical 
estimates of psychotic breakdown in one out of 400 pregnancies, and 
less severe depressions in one out of 80. 

In Bergen County during 1953-57 one out of 10 of the 746 
adult psychiatric patients were young wives who broke down 
over childbirth. In fact, young housewives (18 to 44) suffering 
not only childbirth depression, but all psychiatric and 
psychosomatic disorders with increasing severity, became 
during the fifties by far the predominant group of adult 
psychiatric patients. The number of disturbed young wives was 
more than half again as big as the number of young husbands, 
and three times as big as any other group. (Other surveys of both 
private and public patients in the suburbs have turned up similar 
findings.) From the beginning to the end of the fifties, the young 
housewives also increasingly displaced men as the main 
sufferers of coronary attack, ulcers, hypertension and bronchial 
pneumonia. In the hospital serving this suburban county, women 
now make up 40 per cent of the ulcer patients.- 


I went to see the Gordons, who had attributed the increased 
pathologies of these new young housewives—not found among 
women in comparable rural areas, or older suburbs and cities—to the 
“mobility” of the new suburban population. But the “mobile” 
husbands were not breaking down as were their wives and their 
children. Previous studies of childbirth depression had indicated that 
successful professional or career women sometimes suffered “role- 
conflict” when they became housewife-mothers. But these new 
victims, whose rate of childbirth depression or breakdown was so 
much greater than all previous estimates, had never wanted to be 
anything more than housewife-mothers; that was all that was expected 
of them. The Gordons pointed out that their findings do not indicate 
that the young housewives are necessarily subjected to more stress 
than their husbands; for some reason the women simply show an 
increased tendency to succumb to stress. Could that mean that the role 
of housewife-mother was too much for them; or could it mean that it 
was not enough? 

These women did not share the same childhood seeds of neurosis; 


some, in fact, showed none. But a striking similarity that emerged in 
their case histories was the fact that they had abandoned their 
education below the level of their ability. The sufferers were the 
ones who quit high school or college; more often than comparable 
women their age, they had started college—and left, usually after a 
year.— Many also had come from “the more restrictive ethnic groups” 
(Italian or Jewish) or from small towns in the South where “women 
were protected and kept dependent.” Most had not pursued either 
education or job, nor moved in the world on their own in any 
capacity. A few who broke down had held relatively unskilled jobs, 
or had the beginnings of interests which they gave up when they 
became suburban housewife-mothers. But most had had no ambition 
other than that of marrying an up-and-coming man; many were 
fulfilling not only their own dreams but also the frustrated status 
dreams of their mothers, in marrying ambitious, capable men. As Dr. 
Gordon described them to me: “They were not capable women. They 
had never done anything. They couldn’t even organize the committees 
which needed to be organized in these places. They had never been 
required to apply themselves, learn how to do a job and then do it. 
Many of them quit school. It’s easier to have a baby than get an A. 
They never learned to take stresses, pain, hard work. As soon as the 
going was tough, they broke down.” 

Perhaps because these girls were more passive, more dependent 
than other women, walled up in the suburbs, they sometimes seemed 
to become as infantile as their children. And their children showed a 
passivity and infantilism that seemed pathological—very early in the 
sons. One finds in the suburban mental-health clinics today, the 
overwhelming majority of the child patients are boys, in dramatic and 
otherwise inexplicable reversal of the fact that most of the adult 
patients in all clinics and doctors’ offices today are women—that is, 
housewives. Putting aside the theoretical terms of his profession a 
Boston analyst who has many women patients told me: 

It is true, there are too many more women patients than men. 
Their complaints are varied, but if you look underneath, you find 
this underlying feeling of emptiness. It is not inferiority. It is 
almost like nothingness. The situation is that they are not 
pursuing any goals of their own. 


Another doctor, in a suburban mental-health clinic, told me of the 
young mother of a sixteen-year-old girl who, since their move to the 
suburb seven years ago, has been completely preoccupied with her 
children except for a little “do good” work in the community. Despite 
this mother’s constant anxiety about her daughter (“I think about her 
all day—she doesn’t have any friends and will she get into 
college?”), she forgot the day her daughter was to take her college 
entrance exams. 

Her anxiousness about her daughter and what she was doing 
was her own anxiety about herself, and what she wasn’t doing. 
When these women suffer with the preoccupation of what they 
aren’t doing with themselves, the children actually get very little 
real contact with them I think of another child, 2 years old, with 
very severe symptoms because he has almost no actual contact 
with his mother. She is very much in the home, all day, every 
day. I have to teach her to have even physical contact with the 
child. But it won’t be solved until the mother faces her own 
need for self-fulfillment. Being available to one’s children has 
nothing to do with the amount of time—being able to be there for 
each child in terms of what he needs can happen in a split 
second. And a mother can be there all day, and not be there for 
the child, because of her preoccupation with herself. So he 
holds his breath in temper tantrums; he fights in anger; he refuses 
to let her leave him at nursery school; even at 9 a boy still 
requires his mother to go to the bathroom with him, lie down 
with him or he can’t go to sleep. Or he becomes withdrawn to 
the point of schizophrenia. And she is frantically trying to 
answer the child’s needs and demands. But if she was really 
able to fulfill herself, she would be able to be there for her 
child. She has to be complete herself, and there herself, to help 
the child to grow, and learn to handle reality, even to know what 
his own real feelings are. 


In another clinic, a therapist spoke of a mother who was panicky 
because her child could not learn to read at school, though his 
intelligence tested high. The mother had left college, thrown herself 
into the role of housewife, and had lived for the time when her son 



would go to school, and she would fulfill herself in his achievement. 
Until therapy made the mother “separate” herself from the child, he 
had no sense of himself as a separate being at all. He could, would, 
do nothing, even in play, unless someone told him to. He could not 
even learn to read, which took a self of his own. 

The strange thing was, the therapist said, like so many other 
women of this era of the “feminine role,” in her endeavor to be a 
“real woman,” a good wife and mother, “she was really playing a 
very masculine role.... She was pushing everyone around— 
dominating the children’s lives, ruling the house with an iron hand, 
managing the carpentry, nagging her husband to do odd jobs he never 
finished, managing the finances, supervising the recreation and the 
education—and her husband was just the man who paid the bills.” 

In a Westchester community whose school system is world 
famous, it was recently discovered that graduates with excellent high- 
school records did very poorly in college and did not make much of 
themselves afterwards. An investigation revealed a simple 
psychological cause. All during high school, the mothers literally had 
been doing their children’s homework and term papers. They had 
been cheating their sons and daughters out of their own mental 
growth. 

Another analyst illuminates how juvenile delinquency is caused 
by the child’s acting out of the mother’s needs, when the mother’s 
growth has been stunted. 

Regularly the more important parent—usually the mother, 
although the father is always in some way involved—has been 
seen unconsciously to encourage the amoral or antisocial 
behavior of the child. The neurotic needs of the parent...are 
vicariously gratified by the behavior of the child. Such neurotic 
needs of the parent exist either because of some current inability 
to satisfy them in the world of adults, or because of the stunting 
experiences in the parent’s own childhood—or more commonly, 
because of a combination of both of these factors.— 


Those who have observed and tried to help young delinquents 
have seen this progressive dehumanization process in action, and 
have discovered that love is not enough to counteract it. The 


symbiotic love or permissiveness which has been the translation of 
mother love during the years of the feminine mystique is not enough to 
create a social conscience and strength of character in a child. For 
this it takes a mature mother with a firm core of self, whose own 
sexual, instinctual needs are integrated with social conscience. 
“Firmness bespeaks a parent who has learned...how all of his major 
goals may be reached in some creative course of action.. 

A therapist reported the case of a nine-year-old girl who stole. 
She will outgrow it, said her protective mother—with a 
“permissiveness born of her own need for vicarious satisfaction.” At 
one point, the nine-year-old asked the therapist, “When is my mother 
going to do her own stealing?” 

At its most extreme, this pattern of progressive dehumanization 
can be seen in the cases of schizophrenic children: “autistic” or 
“atypical” children, as they are sometimes called. I visited a famous 
clinic which has been studying these children for almost twenty 
years. During this period, cases of these children, arrested at a very 
primitive, sub-infantile level, have seemed to some to be on the 
increase. The authorities differ as to the cause of this strange 
condition, and whether it is actually on the increase or only seems to 
be because it is now more often diagnosed. Until quite recently, most 
of these children were thought to be mentally retarded. But the 
condition is being seen more frequently now, in hospitals and clinics, 
by doctors and psychiatrists. And it is not the same as the 
irreversible, organic types of mental retardation. It can be treated, 
and sometimes cured. 

These children often identify themselves with things, inanimate 
objects—cars, radios, etc., or with animals—pigs, dogs, cats. The 
crux of the problem seems to be that these children have not 
organized or developed strong enough selves to cope even with the 
child’s reality; they cannot distinguish themselves as separate from 
the outside world; they live on the level of things or of instinctual 
biological impulse that has not been organized into a human 
framework at all. As for the causes, the authorities felt they “must 
examine the personality of the mother, who is the medium through 
which the primitive infant transforms himself into a socialized human 
being.”— 

At the clinic I visited (The James Jackson Putnam Children’s 
Center in Boston) the workers were cautions about drawing 


conclusions about these profoundly disturbed children. But one of the 
doctors said, a bit impatiently, about the increasing stream of 
“missing egos, fragile egos, poorly developed selves” that he has 
encountered—“It’s just the thing we’ve always known, if the parent 
has a fragile ego, the child will.” 

Most of the mothers of the children who never developed a core 
of human self were “extremely immature individuals” themselves, 
though on the surface they “give the impression of being well- 
adjusted.” They were very dependent on their own mothers, fled this 
dependency into early marriage, and “have struggled heroically to 
build and maintain the image they have created of a fine woman, wife 
and mother.” 

The need to be a mother, the hope and expectation that 
through this experience she may become a real person, capable 
of true emotions, is so desperate that of itself it may create 
anxiety, ambivalence, fear of failure. Because she is so barren 
of spontaneous manifestations of maternal feelings, she studies 
vigilantly all the new methods of upbringing and reads treatises 
about physical and mental hygiene.— 


Her omnipresent care of her child is based not on spontaneity but 
on following the “picture of what a good mother should be,” in the 
hope that “through identification with the child, her own flesh and 
blood, she may experience vicariously the joys of real living, of 
genuine feeling.” 

And thus, the child is reduced from “passive inertia” to 
“screaming in the night” to non-humanness. “The passive child is less 
of a threat because he does not make exaggerated demands on the 
mother, who feels constantly in danger of revealing that emotionally 
she has little or nothing to offer, that she is a fraud.” When she 
discovers that she cannot really find her own fulfillment through the 
child: 


...she fights desperately for control, no longer of herself 
perhaps, but of the child. The struggles over toilet training and 
weaning are generally battles in which she tries to redeem 
herself. The child becomes the real victim—victim of the 


mother’s helplessness which, in turn, creates an aggression in 
her that mounts to destruction. The only way for the child to 
survive is to retreat, to withdraw, not only from the dangerous 
mother, but from the whole world as well.”— 


And so he becomes a “thing,” or an animal, or “a restless 
wanderer in search of no one and no place, weaving about the room, 
swaying back and forth, circling the walls as if they were bars he 
would break through.” 

In this clinic, the doctors were often able to trace a similar pattern 
back several generations. The dehumanization was indeed 
progressive. 

In view of these clinical observations, we may assume that 
the conflict we have discovered in two generations may well 
have existed for generations before and will continue in those to 
come, unless the pattern is interrupted by therapeutic 
intervention or the child rescued by a masculine father-figure, a 
hope which our experience would not lead us to expect.— 


But neither therapy nor love was enough to help these children, if 
the mother continued to live vicariously through the child. I noticed 
this same pattern in many of the women I interviewed, women who 
dominated their daughters, or bred them into passive dependence and 
conformity or unconsciously pushed them into sexual activities. One 
of the most tragic women I interviewed was the mother of that 
“sleepwalking” thirteen-year-old girl. A wealthy executive’s wife 
whose life was filled with all the trappings, she lived the very image 
of suburban “togetherness,” except that it was only a shell. Her 
husband’s real life was centered in his business; a life that he could 
not, or would not, share with his wife. She had sought to recapture 
her sense of life by unconsciously pushing her thirteen-year-old 
daughter into promiscuity. She lived in her daughter’s pseudo-sex 
life, which for the girl was so devoid of actual feeling that she 
became in it merely a “thing.” 

Quite a few therapists and counselors were trying to “help” the 
mother and the father, on the premise, I suppose, that if the mother’s 


sexual-emotional needs were filled in her marriage by her husband, 
she would not need to solve them through her daughter—and her 
daughter could grow out of the “thingness” to womanhood herself. It 
was because the husband had so many problems of his own and the 
prospects of the mother ever getting enough love from him looked 
dim, that the counselors were trying to get the mother to develop 
some real interests in her own life. 

But with other women I have encountered who have evaded their 
own growth in vicarious living and lack of personal purposes, not 
even the most loving of husbands have managed to stop the 
progressive damage to their own lives and the lives of their children. 
I have seen what happens when women unconsciously push their 
daughters into too early sexuality, because the sexual adventure was 
the only real adventure—or means of achieving status or identity—in 
their own lives. Today these daughters, who acted out their mothers’ 
dreams or frustrated ambitions in the “normal” feminine way and 
hitched their wagons to the rising stars of ambitious, able men, are, in 
too many cases, as frustrated and unfulfilled as their mothers. They 
do not all rush barefoot to the police station for fear they will murder 
the husband and baby who, they think, trap them in that house. All 
their sons do not become violent menaces in the neighborhood and at 
school; all their daughters do not act out their mothers’ sexual 
phantasies and become pregnant at fourteen. Nor do all such 
housewives begin drinking at 11 A.M. to hide the clunking whir of 
the dishwasher, the washing machine, the dryer, that are finally the 
only sounds of life in that empty house, as the children, one by one, 
go off to school. 

But in suburbs like Bergen County, the rate of “separations” 
increased a wild 100% during the 1950’s, as the able, ambitious men 
kept on growing in the city while their wives evaded growth in 
vicarious living or noncommitment, fulfilling their feminine role at 
home. As long as the children were home, as long as the husband was 
there, the wives suffered increasingly severe illnesses, but 
recovered. But in Bergen County, during this decade, there was a 
drastic increase in suicides of women over forty-five, and of 
hospitalized women psychiatric patients whose children had grown 
up and left home.— The housewives who had to be hospitalized and 
who did not recover quickly were, above all, those who had never 
developed their own abilities in work outside the home.— 


The massive breakdown that may take place as more and more of 
these new young housewife-mothers who are the products of the 
feminine mystique reach their forties is still a matter of speculation. 
But the progressive infantilization of their sons and daughters, as it is 
mirrored in the rash of early marriages, has become an alarming fact. 
In March, 1962, at the national conference of the Child Study 
Association, the new early marriages and parenthood, which had 
formerly been considered an indication of “improved emotional 
maturity” in the younger generation were at last recognized as a sign 
of increasing “infantilization.” The millions of American youngsters 
who, in the 1960’s, were marrying before they were twenty, betrayed 
an immaturity and emotional dependence which seeks marriage as a 
magic short-cut to adult status, a magic solution to problems they 
cannot face themselves, professionals in the chi Id-and-family field 
agreed. These infantile brides and grooms were diagnosed as the 
victims of this generation’s “sick, sad love affair with their own 
children.” 

Many girls will admit that they want to get married because 
they do not want to work any longer. They harbor dreams of 
being taken care of for the rest of their lives without worry, with 
just enough furnishing, to do little housework, interesting 
downtown shopping trips, happy children, and nice neighbors. 
The dream of a husband seems somehow less important but in 
the fantasies of girls about marriage, it usually concerns a man 
who has the strength of an indestructible, reliable, powerful 
father, and the gentleness, givingness, and self-sacrificing love 
of a good mother. Young men give as their reason for wanting to 
marry very often the desire to have a motherly woman in the 
house, and regular sex just for the asking without trouble and 
bother.... In fact, what is supposed to secure maturity and 
independence is in reality a concealed hope to secure 
dependency, to prolong the child-parent relationship with the 
privileges of being a child, and with as little as possible of its 
limitations.— 


And there were other ominous signs across the nation of mounting 
uncontrollable violence among young parents and their children 


trapped in that passive dependence. A psychiatrist reported that such 
wives were reacting to hostility from their husbands by becoming 
even more dependent and passive, until they sometimes became 
literally unable to move, to take a step, by themselves. This did not 
make their husbands treat them with more love, but more rage. And 
what was happening to the rage the wives did not dare to use against 
their husbands? Consider this recent news item {Time, July 20, 1962) 
about the “Battered-Child Syndrome.” 

To many doctors, the incident is becoming distressingly 
familiar. A child, usually under three, is brought to the office 
with multiple fractures—often including a fractured skull. The 
parents express appropriate concern, report that the child fell 
out of bed, or tumbled down the stairs, or was injured by a 
playmate. But x-rays and experience lead the doctor to a 
different conclusion: the child has been beaten by his parents. 


Gathering documentation from 71 hospitals, a University of 
Colorado team found 302 battered-child cases in a single year; 33 
died, 85 suffered permanent brain damage. The parents, who were 
driven “to kick and punch their children, twist their arms, beat them 
with hammers or the buckle end of belts, burn them with cigarettes or 
electric irons,” were as likely to live in those suburban split-levels 
as in tenements. The A.M.A. predicted that when statistics on the 
battered-child syndrome are complete, “it is likely that it will be 
found to be a more frequent cause of death than such well-recognized 
and thoroughly studied diseases as leukemia, cystic fibrosis and 
muscular dystrophy.” 

The “parent” with most opportunity to beat that battered child 
was, of course, the mother. As one young mother of four said to the 
doctor, as she confessed to the wish to kill herself: 

There doesn’t seem any reason for me to go on living. I don’t 
have anything to look forward to. Jim and I don’t even talk to 
each other any more except about the bills and things that need 
to be fixed in the house. I know he resents being so old and tied 
down when he’s still young, and he blames it on me because it 
was I that wanted us to get married then. But the worst thing is, I 



feel so envious of my own children. I almost hate them, because 
they have their lives ahead, and mine is over. 


It may or may not be a symbolic coincidence but the same week 
the child-and-family profession recognized the real significance of 
the early marriages, the New York Times Book Review (Sunday, 
March 18, 1962) recorded a new and unprecedented popularity 
among American adults of books about “love” affairs between human 
beings and animals. In half a century, there have not been as many 
books about animals on the American best-seller lists as in the last 
three years (1959-62). While animals have always dominated the 
literature for small children, with maturity human beings become 
more interested in other human beings. (It is only a symbol, but in the 
Rorschach test, a preponderance of animal over human images is a 
sign of infantilism). And so progressive dehumanization has carried 
the American mind in the last fifteen years from youth worship to that 
“sick love affair” with our own children; from preoccupation with 
the physical details of sex, divorced from a human framework, to a 
love affair between man and animal. Where will it end? 

I think it will not end, as long as the feminine mystique masks the 
emptiness of the housewife role, encouraging girls to evade their own 
growth by vicarious living, by noncommitment. We have gone on too 
long blaming or pitying the mothers who devour their children, who 
sow the seeds of progressive dehumanization, because they have 
never grown to full humanity themselves. If the mother is at fault, why 
isn’t it time to break the pattern by urging all these Sleeping Beauties 
to grow up and live their own lives? There never will be enough 
Prince Charmings, or enough therapists to break that pattern now. It is 
society’s job, and finally that of each woman alone. For it is not the 
strength of the mothers that is at fault but their weakness, their 
passive childlike dependency and immaturity that is mistaken for 
“femininity.” Our society forces boys, insofar as it can, to grow up, to 
endure the pains of growth, to educate themselves to work, to move 
on. Why aren’t girls forced to grow up—to achieve somehow the 
core of self that will end the unnecessary dilemma, the mistaken 
choice between femaleness and humanness that is implied in the 
feminine mystique? 

It is time to stop exhorting mothers to “love” their children more, 
and face the paradox between the mystique’s demand that women 



devote themselves completely to their home and their children, and 
the fact that most of the problems now being treated in child-guidance 
clinics are solved only when the mothers are helped to develop 
autonomous interests of their own, and no longer need to fill their 
emotional needs through their children. It is time to stop exhorting 
women to be more “feminine” when it breeds a passivity and 
dependence that depersonalizes sex and imposes an impossible 
burden on their husbands, a growing passivity in their sons. 

It is not an exaggeration to call the stagnating state of millions of 
American housewives a sickness, a disease in the shape of a 
progressively weaker core of human self that is being handed down 
to their sons and daughters at a time when the dehumanizing aspects 
of modern mass culture make it necessary for men and women to have 
a strong core of self, strong enough to retain human individuality 
through the frightening, unpredictable pressures of our changing 
environment. The strength of women is not the cause, but the cure for 
this sickness. Only when women are permitted to use their full 
strength, to grow to their full capacities, can the feminine mystique be 
shattered and the progressive dehumanization of their children be 
stopped. And most women can no longer use their full strength, grow 
to their full human capacity, as housewives. 

It is urgent to understand how the very condition of being a 
housewife can create a sense of emptiness, non-existence, 
nothingness, in women. There are aspects of the housewife role that 
make it almost impossible for a woman of adult intelligence to retain 
a sense of human identity, the firm core of self or “I” without which a 
human being, man or woman, is not truly alive. For women of ability, 
in America today, I am convinced there is something about the 
housewife state itself that is dangerous. In a sense that is not as far¬ 
fetched as it sounds, the women who “adjust” as housewives, who 
grow up wanting to be “just a housewife,” are in as much danger as 
the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration 
camps—and the millions more who refused to believe that the 
concentration camps existed. 

In fact, there is an uncanny, uncomfortable insight into why a 
woman can so easily lose her sense of self as a housewife in certain 
psychological observations made of the behavior of prisoners in Nazi 
concentration camps. In these settings, purposely contrived for the 
dehumanization of man, the prisoners literally became “walking 
corpses.” Those who “adjusted” to the conditions of the camps 



surrendered their human identity and went almost indifferently to 
their deaths. Strangely enough, the conditions which destroyed the 
human identity of so many prisoners were not the torture and the 
brutality, but conditions similar to those which destroy the identity of 
the American housewife. 

In the concentration camps the prisoners were forced to adopt 
childlike behavior, forced to give up their individuality and merge 
themselves into an amorphous mass. Their capacity for self- 
determination, their ability to predict the future and to prepare for it, 
was systematically destroyed. It was a gradual process which 
occurred in virtually imperceptible stages—but at the end, with the 
destruction of adult self-respect, of an adult frame of reference, the 
dehumanizing process was complete. This was the process as 
observed by Bruno Bettelheim, psychoanalyst and educational 
psychologist, when he was a prisoner at Dachau and Buchenwald in 
1939 .— 

When they entered the concentration camp, prisoners were almost 
traumatically cut off from their past adult interests. This in itself was 
a major blow to their identity over and above their physical 
confinement. A few, though only a few, were able to work privately 
in some way that had interested them in the past. But to do this alone 
was difficult; even to talk about these larger adult interests, or to 
show some initiative in pursuing them, aroused the hostility of other 
prisoners. New prisoners tried to keep their old interests alive, but 
“old prisoners seemed mainly concerned with the problem of how to 
live as well as possible inside the camp.” 

To old prisoners, the world of the camp was the only reality. — 
They were reduced to childlike preoccupation with food, elimination, 
the satisfaction of primitive bodily needs; they had no privacy, and no 
stimulation from the outside world. But, above all, they were forced 
to spend their days in work which produced great fatigue—not 
because it was physically killing, but because it was monotonous, 
endless, required no mental concentration, gave no hope of 
advancement or recognition, was sometimes senseless and was 
controlled by the needs of others or the tempo of machines. It was 
work that did not emanate from the prisoner’s own personality; it 
permitted no real initiative, no expression of the self, not even a real 
demarcation of time. 

And the more the prisoners gave up their adult human identity, the 


more they were preoccupied with the fear that they were losing their 
sexual potency, and the more preoccupied they became with the 
simplest animal needs. It brought them comfort, at first, to surrender 
their individuality, and lose themselves in the anonymity of the mass 
—to feel that “everyone was in the same boat.” But strangely enough, 
under these conditions, real friendships did not grow.— Even 
conversation, which was the prisoners’ favorite pastime and did 
much to make life bearable, soon ceased to have any real meaning.— 
So rage mounted in them. But the rage of the millions that could have 
knocked down the barbed-wire fences and the SS guns was turned 
instead against themselves, and against the prisoners even weaker 
than they. Then they felt even more powerless than they were, and 
saw the SS and the fences as even more impregnable than they were. 

It was said, finally, that not the SS but the prisoners themselves 
became their own worst enemy. Because they could not bear to see 
their situation as it really was—because they denied the very reality 
of their problem, and finally “adjusted” to the camp itself as if it 
were the only reality—they were caught in the prison of their own 
minds. The guns of the SS were not powerful enough to keep all those 
prisoners subdued. They were manipulated to trap themselves; they 
imprisoned themselves by making the concentration camp the whole 
world, by blinding themselves to the larger world of the past, their 
responsibility for the present, and their possibilities for the future. 
The ones who survived, who neither died nor were exterminated, 
were the ones who retained in some essential degree the adult values 
and interests which had been the essence of their past identity. 

All this seems terribly remote from the easy life of the American 
suburban housewife. But is her house in reality a comfortable 
concentration camp? Have not women who live in the image of the 
feminine mystique trapped themselves within the narrow walls of 
their homes? They have learned to “adjust” to their biological role. 
They have become dependent, passive, childlike; they have given up 
their adult frame of reference to live at the lower human level of food 
and things. The work they do does not require adult capabilities; it is 
endless, monotonous, unrewarding. American women are not, of 
course, being readied for mass extermination, but they are suffering a 
slow death of mind and spirit. Just as with the prisoners in the 
concentration camps, there are American women who have resisted 
that death, who have managed to retain a core of self, who have not 


lost touch with the outside world, who use their abilities to some 
creative purpose. They are women of spirit and intelligence who 
have refused to “adjust” as housewives. 

It has been said time and time again that education has kept 
American women from “adjusting” to their role as housewives. But if 
education, which serves human growth, which distills what the human 
mind has discovered and created in the past, and gives man the 
ability to create his own future—if education has made more and 
more American women feel trapped, frustrated, guilty as housewives, 
surely this should be seen as a clear signal that women have 
outgrown the housewife role. 

It is not possible to preserve one’s identity by adjusting for any 
length of time to a frame of reference that is in itself destructive to it. 
It is very hard indeed for a human being to sustain such an “inner” 
split—conforming outwardly to one reality, while trying to maintain 
inwardly the values it denies. The comfortable concentration camp 
that American women have walked into, or have been talked into by 
others, is just such a reality, a frame of reference that denies 
woman’s adult human identity. By adjusting to it, a woman stunts her 
intelligence to become childlike, turns away from individual identity 
to become an anonymous biological robot in a docile mass. She 
becomes less than human, preyed upon by outside pressures, and 
herself preying upon her husband and children. And the longer she 
conforms, the less she feels as if she really exists. She looks for her 
security in things, she hides the fear of losing her human potency by 
testing her sexual potency, she lives a vicarious life through mass 
daydreams or through her husband and children. She does not want to 
be reminded of the outside world; she becomes convinced there is 
nothing she can do about her own life or the world that would make a 
difference. But no matter how often she tries to tell herself that this 
giving up of personal identity is a necessary sacrifice for her children 
and husband, it serves no real purpose. So the aggressive energy she 
should be using in the world becomes instead the terrible anger that 
she dare not turn against her husband, is ashamed of turning against 
her children, and finally turns against herself, until she feels as if she 
does not exist. And yet in the comfortable concentration camp as in 
the real one, something very strong in a woman resists the death of 
herself. 

Describing an unforgettable experience in a real concentration 
camp, Bettelheim tells of a group of naked prisoners—no longer 



human, merely docile robots—who were lined up to enter the gas 
chamber. The SS commanding officer, learning that one of the women 
prisoners had been a dancer, ordered her to dance for him. She did, 
and as she danced, she approached him, seized his gun and shot him 
down. She was immediately shot to death, but Bettelheim is moved to 
ask: 


Isn’t it probable that despite the grotesque setting in which 
she danced, dancing made her once again a person. Dancing, she 
was singled out as an individual, asked to perform in what had 
once been her chosen vocation. No longer was she a number, a 
nameless depersonalized prisoner, but the dancer she used to be. 
Transformed however momentarily, she responded like her old 
self, destroying the enemy bent on her destruction even if she 
had to die in the process. 

Despite the hundreds of thousands of living dead men who 
moved quietly to their graves, this one example shows that in an 
instant, the old personality can be regained, its destruction 
undone, once we decide on our own that we wish to cease being 
units in a system. Exercising the lost freedom that not even the 
concentration camp could take away—to decide how one 
wishes to think and feel about the conditions of one’s life—this 
dancer threw off her real prison. This she could do because she 
was willing to risk her life to achieve autonomy once more.— 


The suburban house is not a German concentration camp, nor are 
American housewives on their way to the gas chamber. But they are 
in a trap, and to escape they must, like the dancer, finally exercise 
their human freedom, and recapture their sense of self. They must 
refuse to be nameless, depersonalized, manipulated and live their 
own lives again according to a self-chosen purpose. They must begin 
to grow. 


13 



The Forfeited Self 


Scientists of human behavior have become increasingly interested in 
the basic human need to grow, man’s will to be all that is in him to 
be. Thinkers in many fields—from Bergson to Kurt Goldstein, Heinz 
Hartmann, Allport, Rogers, Jung, Adler, Rank, Horney, Angyal, 
Fromm, May, Maslow, Bettelheim, Riesman, Tillich and the 
existentialists—all postulate some positive growth tendency within 
the organism, which, from within, drives it to fuller development, to 
self-realization. This “will to power,” “self-assertion,” 
“dominance,” or “autonomy,” as it is variously called, does not imply 
aggression or competitive striving in the usual sense; it is the 
individual affirming his existence and his potentialities as a being in 
his own right; it is “the courage to be an individual.”- Moreover, 
many of these thinkers have advanced a new concept of the 
psychologically healthy man—and of normality and pathology. 
Normality is considered to be the “highest excellence of which we 
are capable.” The premise is that man is happy, self-accepting, 
healthy, without guilt, only when he is fulfilling himself and becoming 
what he can be. 

In this new psychological thinking, which seeks to understand 
what makes men human, and defines neurosis in terms of that which 
destroys man’s capacity to fulfill his own being, the significant tense 
is the future. It is not enough for an individual to be loved and 
accepted by others, to be “adjusted” to his culture. He must take his 
existence seriously enough to make his own commitment to life, and 
to the future; he forfeits his existence by failing to fulfill his entire 
being. 

For years, psychiatrists have tried to “cure” their patients’ 
conflicts by fitting them to the culture. But adjustment to a culture 
which does not permit the realization of one’s entire being is not a 
cure at all, according to the new psychological thinkers. 


Then the patient accepts a confined world without conflict, 


for now his world is identical with the culture. And since 
anxiety comes only with freedom, the patient naturally gets over 
his anxiety: he is relieved from his symptoms because he 
surrenders the possibilities which caused his anxiety.... There 
is certainly a question how far this gaining of release from 
conflict by giving up being can proceed without generating in 
individuals and groups a submerged despair, a resentment which 
will later burst out in self-destructiveness, for history proclaims 
again and again that sooner or later man’s need to be free will 
out.- 


These thinkers may not know how accurately they are describing 
the kind of adjustment that has been inflicted on American 
housewives. What they are describing as unseen self-destruction in 
man, is, I think, no less destructive in women who adjust to the 
feminine mystique, who expect to live through their husbands and 
children, who want only to be loved and secure, to be accepted by 
others, who never make a commitment of their own to society or to 
the future, who never realize their human potential. The adjusted, or 
cured ones who live without conflict or anxiety in the confined world 
of home have forfeited their own being; the others, the miserable, 
frustrated ones, still have some hope. For the problem that has no 
name, from which so many women in America suffer today, is caused 
by adjustment to an image that does not permit them to become what 
they now can be. It is the growing despair of women who have 
forfeited their own existence, although by so doing they may also 
have evaded that lonely, frightened feeling that always comes with 
freedom 

Anxiety occurs at the point where some emerging potentiality 
or possibility faces the individual, some possibility of fulfilling 
his existence; but this very possibility involves the destroying of 
present security, which thereupon gives rise to the tendency to 
deny the new potentiality. - 


The new thinking, which is by no means confined to 
existentialists, would not analyze “away” a person’s guilt over 


refusing to accept the intellectual and spiritual possibilities of his 
existence. Not all feelings of human guilt are unfounded; guilt over 
the murder of another is not to be analyzed away, nor is guilt over the 
murder of oneself. As was said of a man: “The patient was guilty 
because he had locked up some essential potentialities in himself.”- 
The failure to realize the full possibilities of their existence has 
not been studied as a pathology in women. For it is considered 
normal feminine adjustment, in America and in most countries of the 
world. But one could apply to millions of women, adjusted to the 
housewife’s role, the insights of neurologists and psychiatrists who 
have studied male patients with portions of their brain shot away and 
schizophrenics who have for other reasons forfeited their ability to 
relate to the real world. Such patients are seen now to have lost the 
unique mark of the human being: the capacity to transcend the present 
and to act in the light of the possible, the mysterious capacity to shape 
the future. - 

It is precisely this unique human capacity to transcend the present, 
to live one’s life by purposes stretching into the future—to live not at 
the mercy of the world, but as a builder and designer of that world— 
that is the distinction between animal and human behavior, or 
between the human being and the machine. In his study of soldiers 
who had sustained brain injuries, Dr. Kurt Goldstein found that what 
they lost was no more nor less than the ability of abstract human 
thought: to think in terms of “the possible,” to order the chaos of 
concrete detail with an idea, to move according to a purpose. These 
men were tied to the immediate situation in which they found 
themselves; their sense of time and space was drastically curtailed; 
they had lost their human freedom. - 

A similar dailyness shrinks the world of a depressed 
schizophrenic, to whom “each day was a separate island with no past 
and no future.” When such a patient has a terrifying delusion that his 
execution is imminent, it is “the result, not the cause, of his own 
distorted attitude toward the future.” 

There was no action or desire which, emanating from the 
present, reached out to the future, spanning the dull, similar 
days. As a result, each day kept an unusual independence; failing 
to be immersed in the perception of any life continuity, each day 
life began anew, like a solitary island in a gray sea of passing 


time.... There seemed to be no wish to go further; every day 
was an exasperating monotony of the same words, the same 
complaints, until one felt that this being had lost all sense of 
necessary continuity.... His attention was short-lived and he 
seemed unable to go beyond the most banal questions.- 


Recent experimental work by various psychologists reveals that 
sheep can bind past and future into the present for a span of about 
fifteen minutes, and dogs for half an hour. But a human being can 
bring the past of thousands of years ago into the present as guide to 
his personal actions, and can project himself in imagination into the 
future, not only for half an hour, but for weeks and years. This 
capacity to “transcend the immediate boundaries of time,” to act and 
react, and see one’s experience in the dimensions of both past and 
future, is the unique characteristic of human existence.- The brain- 
injured soldiers thus were doomed to the inhuman hell of eternal 
“dailyness.” 

The housewives who suffer the terror of the problem that has no 
name are victims of this same deadly “dailyness.” As one of them 
told me, “I can take the real problems; it’s the endless boring days 
that make me desperate.” Housewives who live according to the 
feminine mystique do not have a personal purpose stretching into the 
future. But without such a purpose to evoke their full abilities, they 
cannot grow to self-realization. Without such a purpose, they lose the 
sense of who they are, for it is purpose which gives the human pattern 
to one’s days.- 

American housewives have not had their brains shot away, nor 
are they schizophrenic in the clinical sense. But if this new thinking is 
right, and the fundamental human drive is not the urge for pleasure or 
the satisfaction of biological needs, but the need to grow and to 
realize one’s full potential, their comfortable, empty, purposeless 
days are indeed cause for a nameless terror. In the name of 
femininity, they have evaded the choices that would have given them 
a personal purpose, a sense of their own being. For, as the 
existentialists say, the values of human life never come about 
automatically. “The human being can lose his own being by his own 
choices, as a tree or stone cannot.”— 

It is surely as true of women’s whole human potential what earlier 


psychological theorists have only deemed true of her sexual potential 
—that if she is barred from realizing her true nature, she will be sick. 
The frustration not only of needs like sex, but of individual abilities 
could result in neurosis. Her anxiety can be soothed by therapy, or 
tranquilized by pills or evaded temporarily by busy-work. But her 
unease, her desperation, is nonetheless a warning that her human 
existence is in danger, even though she has found fulfillment, 
according to the tenets of the feminine mystique, as a wife and 
mother. 

Only recently have we come to accept the fact that there is an 
evolutionary scale or hierarchy of needs in man (and thus in woman), 
ranging from the needs usually called instincts because they are 
shared with animals, to needs that come later in human development. 
These later needs, the needs for knowledge, for self-realization, are 
as instinctive, in a human sense, as the needs shared with other 
animals of food, sex, survival. The clear emergence of the later needs 
seems to rest upon prior satisfaction of the physiological needs. The 
man who is extremely and dangerously hungry has no other interest 
but food. Capacities not useful for the satisfying of hunger are pushed 
into the background. “But what happens to man’s desires when there 
is plenty of food and his belly is chronically filled? At once, other 
(and higher) needs emerge and these, rather than the physiological 
hungers, dominate the organism”— 

In a sense, this evolving hierarchy of needs moves further and 
further away from the physiological level which depends on the 
material environment, and tends toward a level relatively 
independent of the environment, more and more self-determined. But 
a man can be fixated on a lower need level; higher needs can be 
confused or channeled into the old avenues and may never emerge. 
The progress leading finally to the highest human level is easily 
blocked—blocked by deprivation of a lower need, as the need for 
food or sex; blocked also by channeling all existence into these lower 
needs and refusing to recognize that higher needs exist. 

In our culture, the development of women has been blocked at the 
physiological level with, in many cases, no need recognized higher 
than the need for love or sexual satisfaction. Even the need for self- 
respect, for self-esteem and for the esteem of others—“the desire for 
strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for mastery and competence, 
for confidence in the face of the world, and for independence and 
freedom”—is not clearly recognized for women. But certainly the 


thwarting of the need for self-esteem, which produces feelings of 
inferiority, of weakness, and of helplessness in man, can have the 
same effect on woman. Self-esteem in woman, as well as in man, can 
only be based on real capacity, competence, and achievement; on 
deserved respect from others rather than unwarranted adulation. 
Despite the glorification of “Occupation: housewife,” if that 
occupation does not demand, or permit, realization of woman’s full 
abilities, it cannot provide adequate self-esteem, much less pave the 
way to a higher level of self-realization. 

We are living through a period in which a great many of the higher 
human needs are reduced to, or are seen as, symbolic workings-out of 
the sexual need. A number of advanced thinkers now seriously 
question such “explanations by reduction.” While every kind of 
sexual symbolism and emotional pathology can be found by those 
who explore, with this aim, the works and early life of a 
Shakespeare, a da Vinci, a Lincoln, an Einstein, a Freud, or a Tolstoi, 
these “reductions” do not explain the work that lived beyond the man, 
the unique creation that was his, and not that of a man suffering a 
similar pathology. But the sexual symbol is easier to see than sex 
itself as a symbol. If women’s needs for identity, for self-esteem, for 
achievement, and finally for expression of her unique human 
individuality are not recognized by herself or others in our culture, 
she is forced to seek identity and self-esteem in the only channels 
open to her: the pursuit of sexual fulfillment, motherhood, and the 
possession of material things. And, chained to these pursuits, she is 
stunted at a lower level of living, blocked from the realization of her 
higher human needs. 

Of course, little is known about the pathology or the dynamics of 
these higher human needs—the desire to know and understand the 
search for knowledge, truth, and wisdom, the urge to solve the 
cosmic mysteries—because they are not important in the clinic in the 
medical tradition of curing disease. Compared to the symptoms of the 
classical neuroses, such as the ones Freud saw as emanating from the 
repression of the sexual need, this kind of psychopathology would be 
pale, subtle, and easily overlooked—or defined as normal. 

But it is a fact, documented by history, if not in the clinic or 
laboratory, that man has always searched for knowledge and truth, 
even in the face of the greatest danger. Further, recent studies of 
psychologically healthy people have shown that this search, this 
concern with great questions, is one of the defining characteristics of 



human health. There is something less than fully human in those who 
have never known a commitment to an idea, who have never risked 
an exploration of the unknown, who have never attempted the kind of 
creativity of which men and women are potentially capable. As A. H. 
Maslow puts it: 

Capacities clamor to be used, and cease their clamor only 
when they are well used. That is, capacities are also needs. Not 
only is it fun to use our capacities, but it is also necessary. The 
unused capacity or organ can become a disease center or else 
atrophy, thus diminishing the person.— 


But women in America are not encouraged, or expected, to use 
their full capacities. In the name of femininity, they are encouraged to 
evade human growth. 

Growth has not only rewards and pleasure, but also many 
intrinsic pains and always will have. Each step forward is a 
step into the unfamiliar and is thought of as possibly dangerous. 
It also frequently means giving up something familiar and good 
and satisfying. It frequently means a parting and a separation 
with consequent nostalgia, loneliness and mourning. It also often 
means giving up a simpler and easier and less effortful life in 
exchange for a more demanding, more difficult life. Growth 
forward is in spite of these losses and therefore requires 
courage, strength in the individual, as well as protection, 
permission and encouragement from the environment, especially 
for the child.— 


What happens if the environment frowns on that courage and 
strength—sometimes virtually forbids, and seldom actually 
encourages that growth in the child who is a girl? What happens if 
human growth is considered antagonistic to femininity, to fulfillment 
as a woman, to woman’s sexuality? The feminine mystique implies a 
choice between “being a woman” or risking the pains of human 
growth. Thousands of women, reduced to biological living by their 
environment, lulled into a false sense of anonymous security in their 


comfortable concentration camps, have made a wrong choice. The 
irony of their mistaken choice is this: the mystique holds out 
“feminine fulfillment” as the prize for being only a wife and mother. 
But it is no accident that thousands of suburban housewives have not 
found that prize. The simple truth would seem to be that women will 
never know sexual fulfillment and the peak experience of human love 
until they are allowed and encouraged to grow to their full strength as 
human beings. For according to the new psychological theorists, self- 
realization, far from preventing the highest sexual fulfillment, is 
inextricably linked to it. And there is more than theoretical reason to 
believe that this is as true for women as for men. 

In the late thirties, Professor Maslow began to study the 
relationship between sexuality and what he called “dominance 
feeling” or “self-esteem” or “ego level” in women—130 women, of 
college education or of comparable intelligence, between twenty and 
twenty-eight, most of whom were married, of Protestant middle-class 
city background.— He found, contrary to what one might expect from 
the psychoanalytical theories and the conventional images of 
femininity, that the more “dominant” the woman, the greater her 
enjoyment of sexuality—and the greater her ability to “submit” in a 
psychological sense, to give herself freely in love, to have orgasm. It 
was not that these women higher in “dominance” were more “highly 
sexed,” but they were, above all, more completely themselves, more 
free to be themselves—and this seemed inextricably linked with a 
greater freedom to give themselves in love. These women were not, 
in the usual sense, “feminine,” but they enjoyed sexual fulfillment to a 
much higher degree than the conventionally feminine women in the 
same study. 

I have never seen the implications of this research discussed in 
popular psychological literature about femininity or women’s 
sexuality. It was, perhaps, not noticed at the time, even by the 
theorists, as a major landmark. But its findings are thought-provoking 
for American women today, who lead their lives according to the 
dictates of the feminine mystique. Remember that this study was done 
in the late 1930’s, before the mystique became all-powerful. For 
these strong, spirited, educated women, evidently there was no 
conflict between the driving force to be themselves and to love. Here 
is the way Professor Maslow contrasted these women with their 
more “feminine” sisters—in terms of themselves, and in terms of 
their sexuality: 


High dominance feeling involves good self-confidence, self- 
assurance, high evaluation of the self, feelings of general 
capability or superiority, and lack of shyness, timidity, self- 
consciousness or embarrassment. Low dominance feeling 
involves lack of self-confidence, self-assurance and self¬ 
esteem; instead there are extensive feelings of general and 
specific inferiority, shyness, timidity, fearfulness, self- 
consciousness.... The person who describes herself as 
completely lacking in what she may call “self-confidence in 
general” will describe herself as self confident in her home, 
cooking, sewing or being a mother...but almost always 
underestimates to a greater or lesser degree her specific 
abilities and endowments; the high dominance person usually 
gauges her abilities accurately and realistically.— 


These high-dominance women were not “feminine” in the 
conventional sense, partly because they felt free to choose rather than 
be bound by convention, and partly because they were stronger as 
individuals than most women. 

Such women prefer to be treated “Like a person, not like a 
woman.” They prefer to be independent, stand on their own two 
feet, and generally do not care for concessions that imply they 
are inferior, weak or that they need special attention and cannot 
take care of themselves. This is not to imply that they cannot 
behave conventionally. They do when it is necessary or 
desirable for any reason, but they do not take the ordinary 
conventions seriously. A common phrase is “I can be nice and 
sweet and clinging-vine as anyone else, but my tongue is in my 
cheek.’’...Rules per se generally mean nothing to these women. 
It is only when they approve of the rules and can see and 
approve of the purpose behind them that they will obey them. 
They are strong, purposeful and do live by rules, but these rules 
are autonomous and personally arrived at.... 

Low dominance women are very different. They.. .usually do 
not dare to break rules, even when they (rarely) disapprove of 
them.... Their morality and ethics are usually entirely 
conventional. That is, they do what they have been taught to do 


by their parents, their teachers, or their religion. The dictum of 
authority is usually not questioned openly, and they are more apt 
to approve of the status quo in every field of life, religious, 
economic, educational and political.— 


Professor Maslow found that the higher the dominance, or strength 
of self in a woman, the less she was self-centered and the more her 
concern was directed outward to other people and to problems of the 
world. On the other hand, the main preoccupation of the more 
conventionally feminine low-dominance women was themselves and 
their own inferiorities. From a psychological point of view, a high- 
dominance woman was more like a high-dominance man than she 
was like a low-dominance woman. Thus Professor Maslow 
suggested that either you have to describe as “masculine” both high- 
dominance men and women or drop the terms “masculine” and 
“feminine” altogether because they are so “misleading.” 

Our high dominance women feel more akin to men than to 
women in tastes, attitudes, prejudices, aptitudes, philosophy, 
and inner personality in general.... Many of the qualities that are 
considered in our culture to be “manly” are seen in them in high 
degree, e.g., leadership, strength of character, strong social 
purpose, emancipation from trivialities, lack of fear, shyness, 
etc. They do not ordinarily care to be housewives or cooks 
alone, but wish to combine marriage with a career.... Their 
salary may come to no more than the salary of a housekeeper, 
but they feel other work to be more important than sewing, 
cooking, etc.— 


Above all, the high-dominance woman was more psychologically 
free—more autonomous. The low-dominance woman was not free to 
be herself, she was other-directed. The more her self-depreciation, 
self-distrust, the more likely she was to feel another’s opinion more 
valid than her own, and to wish she were more like someone else. 
Such women “usually admire and respect others more than they do 
themselves’ and along with this “tremendous respect for authority,” 
with idolization and imitation of others, with the complete “voluntary 


subordination to others” and the great respect for others, went 
“hatred, and resentment, envy, jealousy, suspicion, distrust.” 

Where the high-dominance women were freely angry, the low- 
dominance women did not “have ‘nerve’ enough to say what they 
think and courage enough to show anger when it is necessary” Thus, 
their “feminine” quietness was a concomitant of “shyness, inferiority 
feelings, and a general feeling that anything they could say would be 
stupid and would be laughed at.” Such a woman “does not want to be 
a leader except in her fantasies, for she is afraid of being in the 
forefront, she is afraid of responsibility, and she feels that she would 
be incompetent.” 

And again Professor Maslow found an evident link between 
strength of self and sexuality, the freedom to be oneself and the 
freedom to “submit.” He found that the women who were “timid, shy, 
modest, neat, tactful, quiet, introverted, retiring, more feminine, more 
conventional,” were not capable of enjoying the kind of sexual 
fulfillment which was freely enjoyed by women high in dominance 
and self-esteem. 

It would seem as if every sexual impulse or desire that has 
ever been spoken of may emerge freely and without inhibition in 
these women.... Generally the sexual act is apt to be taken not 
as a serious rite with fearful aspects, and differing in 
fundamental quality from all other acts, but as a game, as fun, as 
a highly pleasurable animal act.— 


Moreover, Maslow found that, even in dreams and fantasies, 
women of above-average dominance enjoyed sexuality, while in 
low-dominance women the sexual dreams are always “of the 
romantic sort, or else are anxious, distorted, symbolized and 
concealed.” 

Did the makers of the mystique overlook such strong and sexually 
joyous women when they defined passivity and renunciation of 
personal achievement and activity in the world as the price of 
feminine sexual fulfillment? Perhaps Freud and his followers did not 
see such women in their clinics when they created that image of 
passive femininity. Perhaps the strength of self which Maslow found 
in the cases he studied was a new phenomenon in women. 


The mystique kept even the behavioral scientists from exploring 
the relationship between sex and self in women in the ensuing era. 
But, quite aside from questions of women, in recent years behavioral 
scientists have become increasingly uneasy about basing their image 
of human nature on a study of its diseased or stunted specimens— 
patients in the clinic. In this context, Professor Maslow later set 
about to study people, dead and alive, who showed no evidence of 
neurosis, psychosis, or psychopathic personality; people who, in his 
view, showed positive evidence of self-realization, or “self- 
actualization,” which he defined as “the full use and exploitation of 
talents, capacities, potentialities. Such people seem to be fulfilling 
themselves and to be doing the best that they are capable of doing.... 
They are people who have developed or are developing to the full 
stature of which they are capable.”— 

There are many things that emerged from this study which bear 
directly on the problem of women in America today. For one thing, 
among the public figures included in his study, Professor Maslow 
was able to find only two women who had actually fulfilled 
themselves—Eleanor Roosevelt and Jane Addams. (The men 
included Lincoln, Jefferson, Einstein, Freud, G. W. Carver, Debs, 
Schweitzer, Kreisler, Goethe, Thoreau, William James, Spinoza, 
Whitman, Franklin Roosevelt, Beethoven.) Apart from public and 
historical figures, he studied at close range a small number of 
unnamed subjects who met his criteria—all in their 50’s and 60’s— 
and he screened 3,000 college students, finding only twenty who 
seemed to be developing in the direction of self-actualization; here 
also, there were very few women. As a matter of fact, his findings 
implied that self-actualization, or the full realization of human 
potential, was hardly possible at all for women in our society. 

Professor Maslow found in his study that self-actualizing people 
invariably have a commitment, a sense of mission in life that makes 
them live in a very large human world, a frame of reference beyond 
privatism and preoccupation with the petty details of daily life. 

These individuals customarily have some mission in life, 
some task to fulfill, some problem outside themselves which 
enlists much of their energies.... In general, these tasks are 
nonpersonal or unselfish, concerned rather with the good of 
mankind in general, or of a nation in general....Ordinarily 


concerned with basic issues and eternal questions, such people 
live customarily in the widest possible frame of reference.... 
They work within a framework of values that are broad and not 
petty, universal and not local, and in terms of a century rather 
than a moment... .— 


Further, Professor Maslow saw that self-actualizing people, who 
live in a larger world, somehow thereby never stale in their 
enjoyment of the day-to-day living, the trivialities which can become 
unbearably chafing to those for whom they are the only world. They 
“...have the wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, 
freshly and naively, the basic goods of life with awe, pleasure, 
wonder, and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have 
become to others.”— 

He also reported “the very strong impression that the sexual 
pleasures are found in their most intense and ecstatic perfection in 
self-actualizing people.” It seemed as if fulfillment of personal 
capacity in this larger world opened new vistas of sexual ecstasy. 
And yet sex, or even love, was not the driving purpose in their lives. 

In self-actualizing people, the orgasm is simultaneously more 
important and less important than in average people. It is often a 
profound and almost mystical experience, and yet the absence of 
sexuality is more easily tolerated by these people.... Loving at a 
higher need level makes the lower needs and their frustrations 
and satisfactions less important, less central, more easily 
neglected. But it also makes them more wholeheartedly enjoyed 
when gratified....Food is simultaneously enjoyed and yet 
regarded as relatively unimportant in the total scheme of life.... 
Sex can be wholeheartedly enjoyed, enjoyed far beyond the 
possibility of the average person, even at the same time that it 
does not play a central role in the philosophy of life. It is 
something to be enjoyed, something to be taken for granted, 
something to build upon, something that is very basically 
important like water or food, and that can be enjoyed as much as 
these; but gratification should be taken for granted.— 


With such people, the sexual orgasm is not always a “mystical 
experience” it may also be taken rather lightly, bringing “fun, 
merriment, elation, feeling of well-being, gaiety.... It is cheerful, 
humorous, and playful—and not primarily a striving, it is basically an 
enjoyment and a delight.” He also found, in contradiction both to the 
conventional view and to esoteric theorists of sex, that in self- 
actualizing people the quality of both love and sexual satisfaction 
improves with the age of the relationship. (“It is a very common 
report from these individuals that sex is better than it used to be and 
seems to be improving all the time.”) For, as such a person, with the 
years, becomes more and more himself, and truer to himself, he 
seems also to have deeper and more profound relations with others, 
to be capable of more fusion, greater love, more perfect 
identification with others, more transcendence of the boundaries of 
the self, without ever giving up his own individuality. 

What we see is a fusion of great ability to love and at the 
same time great respect for the other and great respect for 
oneself.... Throughout the most intense and ecstatic love affairs, 
these people remain themselves and remain ultimately masters 
of themselves as well, living by their own standards, even 
though enjoying each other intensely.— 


In our society, love has customarily been defined, at least for 
women, as a complete merging of egos and a loss of separateness 
—“togetherness,” a giving up of individuality rather than a 
strengthening of it. But in the love of self-actualizing people, Maslow 
found that the individuality is strengthened, that “the ego is in one 
sense merged with another, but yet in another sense remains separate 
and strong as always. The two tendencies, to transcend individuality 
and to sharpen and strengthen it, must be seen as partners and not as 
contradictory.” 

He also found in the love of self-actualizing people the tendency 
to more and more complete spontaneity, the dropping of defenses, 
growing intimacy, honesty, and self-expression. These people found 
it possible to be themselves, to feel natural; they could be 
psychologically (as well as physically) naked and still feel loved and 
wanted and secure; they could let their faults, weaknesses, physical 


and psychological shortcomings be freely seen. They did not always 
have to put their best foot forward, to hide false teeth, gray hairs, 
signs of age; they did not have to “work” continually at their 
relationships; there was much less mystery and glamour, much less 
reserve and concealment and secrecy In such people, there did not 
seem to be hostility between the sexes. In fact, he found that such 
people “made no really sharp differentiation between the roles and 
personalities of the two sexes.” 

That is, they did not assume that the female was passive and 
the male active, whether in sex or love or anything else. These 
people were all so certain of their maleness or femaleness that 
they did not mind taking on some of the cultural aspects of the 
opposite sex role. It was especially noteworthy that they could 
be both active and passive lovers, and this was the clearest in 
the sexual act and in physical lovemaking. Kissing and being 
kissed, being above or below in the sexual act, taking the 
initiative, being quiet and receiving love, teasing and being 
teased—these were all found in both sexes.— 


And thus, while in the conventional and even in the sophisticated 
view, masculine and feminine love, active and passive, seem to be at 
opposite poles, in self-actualizing people “the dichotomies are 
resolved and the individual becomes both active and passive, both 
selfish and unselfish, both masculine and feminine, both self- 
interested and self-effacing.” 

Love for self-actualizing people differed from the conventional 
definition of love in yet another way; it was not motivated by need, to 
make up a deficiency in the self; it was more purely “gift” love, a 
kind of “spontaneous admiration.”— 

Such disinterested admiration and love used to be considered a 
superhuman ability, not a natural human one. But as Maslow says, 
“human beings at their best, frilly grown, show many characteristics 
one thought, in an earlier era, to be supernatural prerogatives.” 

And there, in the words “fully grown,” is the clue to the mystery 
of the problem that has no name. The transcendence of self, in sexual 
orgasm, as in creative experience, can only be attained by one who is 
himself, or herself, complete, by one who has realized his or her own 


identity. The theorists know this is true for man, though they have 
never thought through the implications for women. The suburban 
doctors, gynecologists, obstetricians, child-guidance clinicians, 
pediatricians, marriage counselors, and ministers who treat women’s 
problems have all seen it, without putting a name to it, or even 
reporting it as a phenomenon. What they have seen confirms that for 
woman, as for man, the need for self-fulfillment—autonomy, self- 
realization, independence, individuality, self-actualization—is as 
important as the sexual need, with as serious consequences when it is 
thwarted. Woman’s sexual problems are, in this sense, by-products of 
the suppression of her basic need to grow and fulfill her potentialities 
as a human being, potentialities which the mystique of feminine 
fulfillment ignores. 

Psychoanalysts have long suspected that woman’s intelligence 
does not fully flower when she denies her sexual nature; but by the 
same token can her sexual nature fully flower when she must deny her 
intelligence, her highest human potential? All the words that have 
been written criticizing American women for castrating their 
husbands and sons, for dominating their children, for their material 
greediness, for their sexual frigidity or denial of femininity may 
simply mask this one underlying fact: that woman, no more than man, 
can live by sex alone; that her struggle for identity, autonomy—that 
“personally productive orientation based on the human need for 
active participation in a creative task”—is inextricably linked with 
her sexual fulfillment, as a condition of her maturity. In the attempt to 
live by sex alone, in the image of the feminine mystique, ultimately 
she must “castrate” the husband and sons who can never give her 
enough satisfaction to make up for lack of a self, and pass on to her 
daughters her own unspoken disappointment, self-denigration, and 
discontent. 

Professor Maslow told me that he thought self-actualization is 
only possible for women today in America if one person can grow 
through another—that is, if the woman can realize her own potential 
through her husband and children. “We do not know if this is possible 
or not,” he said. 

The new theorists of the self, who are men, have usually evaded 
the question of self-realization for a woman. Bemused themselves by 
the feminine mystique, they assume that there must be some strange 
“difference” which permits a woman to find self-realization by living 
through her husband and children, while men must grow to theirs. It is 



still very difficult, even for the most advanced psychological theorist, 
to see woman as a separate self, a human being who, in that respect, 
is no different in her need to grow than is a man. Most of the 
conventional theories about women, as well as the feminine 
mystique, are based on this “difference.” But the actual basis for this 
“difference” is the fact that the possibility for true self-realization has 
not existed for women until now. 

Many psychologists, including Freud, have made the mistake of 
assuming from observations of women who did not have the 
education and the freedom to play their full part in the world, that it 
was woman’s essential nature to be passive, conformist, dependent, 
fearful, childlike—just as Aristotle, basing his picture of human 
nature on his own culture and particular period of time, made the 
mistake of assuming that just because a man was a slave, this was his 
essential nature and therefore “it was good for him to be a slave.” 

Now that education, freedom, the right to work on the great human 
frontiers—all the roads by which men have realized themselves—are 
open to women, only the shadow of the past enshrined in the mystique 
of feminine fulfillment keeps women from finding their road. The 
mystique promises women sexual fulfillment through abdication of 
self. But there is massive statistical evidence that the very opening to 
American women of those roads to their own identity in society 
brought a real and dramatic increase in woman’s capacity for sexual 
fulfillment: the orgasm. In the years between the “emancipation” of 
women won by the feminists and the sexual counterrevolution of the 
feminine mystique, American women enjoyed a decade-by-decade 
increase in sexual orgasm And the women who enjoyed this the most 
fully were, above all, the women who went furthest on the road to 
self-realization, women who were educated for active participation 
in the world outside the home. 

This evidence is found in two famous studies, generally not cited 
for this purpose. The first of these, the Kinsey report, was based on 
interviews with 5,940 women who grew up in the various decades of 
the twentieth century during which the emancipation of women was 
won, and before the era of the feminine mystique. Even according to 
Kinsey’s measure of sexual fulfillment, the orgasm (which many 
psychologists, sociologists, and analysts have criticized for its 
narrow, mechanistic, over-physiological emphasis, and its disregard 
of basic psychological nuances), his study shows a dramatic increase 
in sexual fulfillment during these decades. The increase began with 



the generation born between 1900 and 1909, who were maturing and 
marrying in the 1920’s—the era of feminism, the winning of the vote 
and the great emphasis on women’s rights, independence, careers, 
and equality with men, including the right to sexual fulfillment. The 
increase in wives reaching orgasm and the decrease in frigid women 
continued in each succeeding generation down to the youngest 
generation in the Kinsey sample which was marrying in the 1940’s.— 
And the most “emancipated” women, women educated beyond 
college for professional careers, showed a far greater capacity for 
complete sexual enjoyment, full orgasm, than the rest. Contrary to the 
feminine mystique, the Kinsey figures showed that the more educated 
the woman, the more likely she was to enjoy full sexual orgasm more 
often, and the less likely to be frigid. The greater sexual enjoyment of 
women who had completed college, compared to those who had not 
gone beyond grade school or high school, and the even greater sexual 
enjoyment of women who had gone beyond college into higher 
professional training showed up from the first year of marriage, and 
continued to show up in the fifth, tenth, and fifteenth years of 
marriage. While Kinsey found only one American woman in ten who 
had never experienced sexual orgasm, the majority of women he 
interviewed did not experience it completely, all or almost all of the 
time—except for those women who were educated beyond college. 
The Kinsey figures also showed that women who married before 
twenty were least likely to experience sexual orgasm, and were 
likely to enjoy it less frequently in or out of marriage, though they 
started sexual intercourse five or six years earlier than women who 
finished college or graduate school. 

While the Kinsey data showed that over the years “a distinctly 
higher proportion of the better educated females, in contrast to the 
grade school and high school females, had actually reached orgasm in 
a higher percentage of their marital coitus,” the increased enjoyment 
of sex did not, for the most part, mean an increased incidence of it, in 
the woman’s life. On the whole, there was a slight trend in the 
opposite direction. And that increase in extramarital sex was less 
marked with professionally trained women.— 

Perhaps something about the supposedly “unfeminine” strength, or 
self-realization achieved by women educated for professional 
careers enabled them to enjoy greater sexual fulfillment in their 
marriages than other women—as measured by the orgasm—and thus 


less likely to seek it outside of marriage. Or perhaps they simply had 
less need to seek status, achievement, or identity in sex. The 
relationship between woman’s sexual fulfillment and self-realization 
indicated by Kinsey’s findings is underlined by the fact that, as many 
critics have pointed out, Kinsey’s sample was over-representative of 
professional women, college graduates, women with unusually high 
“dominance” or strength of self. Kinsey’s sample underrepresented 
the “typical” American housewife who devotes her life to husband, 
home and children; it underrepresented women with little education; 
because of its use of volunteers, it underrepresented the kind of 
passive, submissive, conformist women whom Maslow found to be 
incapable of sexual enjoyment.— The increase in sexual fulfillment 
and decrease in frigidity which Kinsey found during the decades after 
women’s emancipation may not have been felt by the “average” 
American housewife as much as by this minority of women who 
directly experienced emancipation through education and 
participation in the professions. Nevertheless, the decrease in 
frigidity was so dramatic in that large, if unrepresentative, sample of 
nearly 6,000 women, that even Kinsey’s critics found it significant. 

It was hardly an accident that this increase in woman’s sexual 
fulfillment accompanied her progress to equal participation in the 
rights, education, work, and decisions of American society. The 
coincidental sexual emancipation of American men—the lifting of the 
veil of contempt and degradation from sexual intercourse—was 
surely related to the American male’s new regard for the American 
woman as an equal, a person like himself, and not just a sexual 
object. Evidently, the further women progressed from that state, the 
more sex became an act of human intercourse rather than a dirty joke 
to men; and the more women were able to love men, rather than 
submit, in passive distaste, to their sexual desire. In fact, the feminine 
mystique itself—with its acknowledgement of woman as subject and 
not just object of the sexual act, and its assumption that her active, 
willing participation was essential to man’s pleasure—could not 
have come without the emancipation of women to human equality. As 
the early feminists foresaw, women’s rights did indeed promote 
greater sexual fulfillment, for men and women. 

Other studies also showed that education and independence 
increased the American woman’s ability to enjoy a sexual 
relationship with a man, and thus to affirm more fully her own sexual 
nature as a woman. Repeated reports, before and after Kinsey, 


showed college-educated women to have a much lower than average 
divorce rate. More specifically, a massive and famous sociological 
study by Ernest W. Burgess and Leonard S. Cottrell indicated that 
women’s chances of happiness in marriage increased as their career 
preparation increased—with teachers, professional nurses, women 
doctors, and lawyers showing fewer unhappy marriages than any 
other group of women. These women were more likely to enjoy 
happiness in marriage than women who held skilled office positions, 
who in turn, had happier marriages than women who had not worked 
before marriage, or who had no vocational ambition, or who worked 
at a job that was not in accordance with their own ambitions, or 
whose only work training or experience was domestic or unskilled. 
In fact, the higher the woman’s income at the time of her marriage, the 
more probable her married happiness. As the sociologists put it: 

Apparently in the case of wives, the traits that make for 
success in the business world as measured by monthly income 
are the traits that make for success in marriage. The point, of 
course, may be made that income indirectly measures education 
since the amount of educational training influences income.— 


Among 526 couples, less than 10 per cent showed “low” marital 
adjustment where the wife had been employed seven or more years, 
had completed college or professional training, and had not married 
before twenty-two. Where wives had been educated beyond college , 
less than 5 per cent of marriages scored “low” in happiness. The 
following table shows the relationship between the marriage and the 
educational achievement of the wife. 


Marriage Adjustment Scores at Different Educational Levels 


MARITAL ADJUSTMENT SCORE 


Wife’s Educational Level 

Very low 

Low 

High 

Very high 

Graduate work 

0.0 

4.6 

38.7 

56.5 

College 

9.2 

18.9 

22.9 

48.9 

High School 

14.4 

16.3 

32.2 

37.1 

Grades Only 

33.3 

25.9 

25.9 

14.8 


One might have predicted from such evidence a relatively poor 
chance of married happiness, or of sexual fulfillment, or even of 
orgasm, for the women whom the mystique encouraged to marry 
before twenty, to forgo higher education, careers, independence, and 
equality with men in favor of femininity. And, as a matter of fact, the 
youngest group of wives studied by Kinsey—the generation born 
between 1920 and 1929 who met the feminine mystique head-on in 
the 1940’s when the race back home began—showed, by the fifth 
year of marriage, a sharp reversal of that trend toward increased 
sexual fulfillment in marriage which had been manifest in every 
decade since women’s emancipation in the 1920’s. 

The percentage of women enjoying orgasm in all or nearly 
all of their married sex life in the fifth year of marriage had 
risen from 37% of women in the generation born before 1900 to 
42% in the generations born in the next two decades. The 
youngest group, whose fifth year of marriage was in the late 
1940’s, enjoyed full orgasm in even less cases (36%) than 
women born before 1900.— 


Would a new Kinsey study find the young wives who are products 
of the feminine mystique enjoying even less sexual fulfillment than 
their more emancipated, more independent, more educated, more 
grownup-when-married forebears? Only fourteen per cent of 
Kinsey’s women had married by twenty; a bare majority—fifty-three 
per cent—had married by twenty-five, though most did marry. This is 
quite a difference from the America of the 1960’s, when fifty per cent 
of women marry in their teens. 

Recently, Helene Deutsch, the eminent psychoanalyst who went 



even further than Freud in equating femininity with masochistic 
passivity and, in warning women that “outward-directed activity” 
and “masculinizing” intellectuality might interfere with a fully 
feminine orgasm, threw a psychoanalytic conference into an uproar 
by suggesting that perhaps too much emphasis had been put on “the 
orgasm” for women. In the 1960’s, she was suddenly not so sure that 
women had to have, or could have, a real orgasm. Perhaps a more 
“diffuse” fulfillment was all that could be expected. After all, she had 
women patients who were absolutely psychotic who seemed to have 
orgasms; but most women she saw now did not seem to have them at 
all. 

What did it mean? Could women, then, not experience orgasm? Or 
had something happened, during this time when so much emphasis has 
been placed on sexual fulfillment, to keep women from experiencing 
orgasm? The experts did not all agree. But in other contexts, not 
concerned with women, analysts reported that passive people who 
“psychologically feel empty”—who fail to “develop adequate egos,” 
have “little sense of their own identity”—cannot submit to the 
experience of sexual orgasm for fear of their own non-existence. - 
Fanned into an all-consuming sexual search by the popularizers of 
Freudian “femininity,” many women had, in effect, renounced 
everything for the orgasm that was supposed to be at the end of the 
rainbow. To say the least, they directed quite a lot of their emotional 
energies and needs toward the sexual act. As somebody said about a 
truly beautiful woman in America, her image has been so 
overexposed in the ads, television, movies, that when you see the real 
thing, you’re disappointed. Without even delving into the murky 
depths of the unconscious, one might assume it was asking a lot of the 
beautiful orgasm, not only to live up to its overadvertised claims, but 
to constitute the equivalent of an A in sex, a salary raise, a good 
review on opening night, promotion to senior editor or associate 
professor, much less the basic “experience of oneself,” the sense of 
identity.— As one psychotherapist reported: 

One of the major reasons, ironically, why so many women 
are not achieving full-flowering sexuality today is because they 
are so over determined to achieve it. They are so ashamed if 
they do not reach the heights of expressive sensuality that they 
tragically sabotage their own desires. That is to say, instead of 


focusing clearly on the real problem at hand, these women are 
focusing on quite a different problem, namely, “Oh, what an 
idiot and an incompetent person I am for not being able to 
achieve satisfaction without difficulty.” Today’s women are 
often obsessed with the notion of how , rather than what , they are 
doing when they are having marital relations. That is fatal. 


If sex itself, as another psychoanalyst put it, is beginning to have a 
“depressive” quality in America, it is perhaps because too many 
Americans—especially the women sex-seekers—are putting into the 
sexual search all their frustrated needs for self-realization. American 
women are suffering, quite simply, a massive sickness of sex without 
self. No one has warned them that sex can never be a substitute for 
personal identity; that sex itself cannot give identity to a woman, any 
more than to a man; that there may be no sexual fulfillment at all for 
the woman who seeks her self in sex. 

The question of how a person can most fully realize his own 
capacities and thus achieve identity has become an important concern 
of the philosophers and the social and psychological thinkers of our 
time—and for good reason. Thinkers of other times put forth the idea 
that people were, to a great extent, defined by the work they did. The 
work that a man had to do to eat, to stay alive, to meet the physical 
necessities of his environment, dictated his identity. And in this 
sense, when work is seen merely as a means of survival, human 
identity was dictated by biology. 

But today the problem of human identity has changed. For the 
work that defined man’s place in society and his sense of himself has 
also changed man’s world. Work, and the advance of knowledge, has 
lessened man’s dependence on his environment; his biology and the 
work he must do for biological survival are no longer sufficient to 
define his identity. This can be most clearly seen in our own abundant 
society; men no longer need to work all day to eat. They have an 
unprecedented freedom to choose the kind of work they will do; they 
also have an unprecedented amount of time apart from the hours and 
days that must actually be spent in making a living. And suddenly one 
realizes the significance of today’s identity crisis—for women, and 
increasingly, for men. One sees the human significance of work—not 
merely as the means of biological survival, but as the giver of self 



and the transcender of self, as the creator of human identity and 
human evolution. 

For “self-realization” or “self-fulfillment” or “identity” does not 
come from looking into a mirror in rapt contemplation of one’s own 
image. Those who have most fully realized themselves, in a sense 
that can be recognized by the human mind even though it cannot be 
clearly defined, have done so in the service of a human purpose 
larger than themselves. Men from varying disciplines have used 
different words for this mysterious process from which comes the 
sense of self. The religious mystics, the philosophers, Marx, Freud— 
all had different names for it: man finds himself by losing himself; 
man is defined by his relation to the means of production; the ego, the 
self, grows through understanding and mastering reality—through 
work and love. 

The identity crisis, which has been noted by Erik Erikson and 
others in recent years in the American man, seems to occur for lack 
of, and be cured by finding, the work, or cause, or purpose that 
evokes his own creativity.— Some never find it, for it does not come 
from busy-work or punching a time clock. It does not come from just 
making a living, working by formula, finding a secure spot as an 
organization man. The very argument, by Riesman and others, that 
man no longer finds identity in the work defined as a paycheck job, 
assumes that identity for man comes through creative work of his own 
that contributes to the human community: the core of the self becomes 
aware, becomes real, and grows through work that carries forward 
human society. 

Work, the shopworn staple of the economists, has become the new 
frontier of psychology. Psychiatrists have long used “occupational 
therapy” with patients in mental hospitals; they have recently 
discovered that to be of real psychological value, it must be not just 
“therapy,” but real work, serving a real purpose in the community. 
And work can now be seen as the key to the problem that has no 
name. The identity crisis of American women began a century ago, as 
more and more of the work important to the world, more and more of 
the work that used their human abilities and through which they were 
able to find self-realization, was taken from them. 

Until, and even into, the last century, strong, capable women were 
needed to pioneer our new land; with their husbands, they ran the 
farms and plantations and Western homesteads. These women were 
respected and self-respecting members of a society whose pioneering 


purpose centered in the home. Strength and independence, 
responsibility and self-confidence, self-discipline and courage, 
freedom and equality were part of the American character for both 
men and women, in all the first generations. The women who came by 
steerage from Ireland, Italy, Russia, and Poland worked beside their 
husbands in the sweatshops and the laundries, learned the new 
language, and saved to send their sons and daughters to college. 
Women were never quite as “feminine,” or held in as much contempt, 
in America as they were in Europe. American women seemed to 
European travelers, long before our time, less passive, childlike, and 
feminine than their own wives in France or Germany or England. By 
an accident of history, American women shared in the work of 
society longer, and grew with the men. Grade-and high-school 
education for boys and girls alike was almost always the rule; and in 
the West, where women shared the pioneering work the longest, even 
the universities were coeducational from the beginning. 

The identity crisis for women did not begin in America until the 
fire and strength and ability of the pioneer women were no longer 
needed, no longer used, in the middle-class homes of the Eastern and 
Midwestern cities, when the pioneering was done and men began to 
build the new society in industries and professions outside the home. 
But the daughters of the pioneer women had grown too used to 
freedom and work to be content with leisure and passive femininity.— 

It was not an American, but a South African woman, Mrs. Olive 
Schreiner, who warned at the turn of the century that the quality and 
quantity of women’s functions in the social universe were decreasing 
as fast as civilization was advancing; that if women did not win back 
their right to a full share of honored and useful work, woman’s mind 
and muscle would weaken in a parasitic state; her offspring, male and 
female, would weaken progressively, and civilization itself would 
deteriorate.— 

The feminists saw clearly that education and the right to 
participate in the more advanced work of society were women’s 
greatest needs. They fought for and won the rights to new, fully human 
identity for women. But how very few of their daughters and 
granddaughters have chosen to use their education and their abilities 
for any large creative purpose, for responsible work in society? How 
many of them have been deceived, or have deceived themselves, into 
clinging to the outgrown, childlike femininity of “Occupation: 


housewife”? 

It was not a minor matter, their mistaken choice. We now know 
that the same range of potential ability exists for women as for men. 
Women, as well as men, can only find their identity in work that uses 
their full capacities. A woman cannot find her identity through others 
—her husband, her children. She cannot find it in the dull routine of 
housework. As thinkers of every age have said, it is only when a 
human being faces squarely the fact that he can forfeit his own life, 
that he becomes truly aware of himself, and begins to take his 
existence seriously. Sometimes this awareness comes only at the 
moment of death. Sometimes it comes from a more subtle facing of 
death: the death of self in passive conformity, in meaningless work. 
The feminine mystique prescribes just such a living death for women. 
Faced with the slow death of self, the American woman must begin to 
take her life seriously. 

“We measure ourselves by many standards,” said the great 
American psychologist William James, nearly a century ago. “Our 
strength and our intelligence, our wealth and even our good luck, are 
things which warm our heart and make us feel ourselves a match for 
life. But deeper than all such things, and able to suffice unto itself 
without them, is the sense of the amount of effort which we can put 
forth.”— 

If women do not put forth, finally, that effort to become all that 
they have it in them to become, they will forfeit their own humanity. 
A woman today who has no goal, no purpose, no ambition patterning 
her days into the future, making her stretch and grow beyond that 
small score of years in which her body can fill its biological 
function, is committing a kind of suicide. For that future half a century 
after the child-bearing years are over is a fact that an American 
woman cannot deny. Nor can she deny that as a housewife, the world 
is indeed rushing past her door while she just sits and watches. The 
terror she feels is real, if she has no place in that world. 

The feminine mystique has succeeded in burying millions of 
American women alive. There is no way for these women to break 
out of their comfortable concentration camps except by finally putting 
forth an effort—that human effort which reaches beyond biology, 
beyond the narrow walls of home, to help shape the future. Only by 
such a personal commitment to the future can American women break 
out of the housewife trap and truly find fulfillment as wives and 
mothers—by fulfilling their own unique possibilities as separate 


human beings. 



14 



A New Life Plan for Women 


^Easy enough to say,” the woman inside the housewife’s trap 
remarks, “but what can I do, alone in the house, with the children 
yelling and the laundry to sort and no grandmother to babysit?” It is 
easier to live through someone else than to become complete 
yourself. The freedom to lead and plan your own life is frightening if 
you have never faced it before. It is frightening when a woman finally 
realizes that there is no answer to the question “who am I” except the 
voice inside herself. She may spend years on the analyst’s couch, 
working out her “adjustment to the feminine role,” her blocks to 
“fulfillment as a wife and mother. And still the voice inside her may 
say, “That’s not it.” Even the best psychoanalyst can only give her the 
courage to listen to her own voice. When society asks so little of 
women, every woman has to listen to her own inner voice to find her 
identity in the changing world. She must create, out of her own needs 
and abilities, a new life plan, fitting in the love and children and 
home that have defined femininity in the past with the work toward a 
greater purpose that shapes the future. 

To face the problem is not to solve it. But once a woman faces it, 
as women are doing today all over America without much help from 
the experts, once she asks herself “What do I want to do?” she begins 
to find her own answers. Once she begins to see through the 
delusions of the feminine mystique—and realizes that neither her 
husband nor her children, nor the things in her house, nor sex, nor 
being like all the other women, can give her a self—she often finds 
the solution much easier than she anticipated. 

Of the many women I talked to in the suburbs and cities, some 
were just beginning to face the problem, others were well on their 
way to solving it, and for still others it was no longer a problem. In 
the stillness of an April afternoon with all her children in school, a 
woman told me: 


I put all my energies into the children, carting them around, 



worrying about them, teaching them things. Suddenly, there was 
this terrible feeling of emptiness. All that volunteer work I’d 
taken on—Scouts, PTA, the League, just didn’t seem worth 
doing all of a sudden. As a girl, I wanted to be an actress. It was 
too late to go back to that. I stayed in the house all day, cleaning 
things I hadn’t cleaned in years. I spent a lot of time just crying. 
My husband and I talked about its being an American woman’s 
problem, how you give up a career for the children, and then you 
reach a point where you can’t go back. I felt so envious of the 
few women I know who had a definite skill and kept working at 
it. My dream of being an actress wasn’t real—I didn’t work at 
it. Did I have to throw my whole self into the children? I’ve 
spent my whole life just immersed in other people, and never 
even knew what kind of a person I was myself. Now I think even 
having another baby wouldn’t solve that emptiness long. You 
can’t go back—you have to go on. There must be some real way 
I can go on myself. 


This woman was just beginning her search for identity. Another 
woman had made it to the other side, and could look back now and 
see the problem clearly. Her home was colorful, casual, but 
technically she was no longer “just a housewife.” She was paid for 
her work as a professional painter. She told me that when she 
stopped conforming to the conventional picture of femininity she 
finally began to enjoy being a woman. She said: 

I used to work so hard to maintain this beautiful picture of 
myself as a wife and mother. I had all of my children by natural 
childbirth. I breastfed them all. I got mad once at an older 
woman at a party when I said childbirth is the most important 
thing in life, the basic animal, and she said, “Don’t you want to 
be more than an animal?” 

You do want something more, only you don’t know what it is. 
So you put even more into housekeeping. It’s not challenging 
enough, just ironing dresses for your little girls, so you go in for 
ruffly dresses that need more ironing, and bake your own bread, 
and refuse to get a dishwasher. You think if you make a big 
enough challenge out of it, then somehow it will be satisfying. 
And still it wasn’t. 



I almost had an affair. I used to feel so discontented with my 
husband. I used to feel outraged if he didn’t help with the 
housework. I insisted that he do dishes, scrub floors, everything. 
We wouldn’t quarrel, but you can’t deceive yourself sometimes 
in the middle of the night. 

I couldn’t seem to control this feeling that I wanted something 
more from life. So I went to a psychiatrist. He kept trying to 
make me enjoy being feminine, but it didn’t help. And then I 
went to one who seemed to make me find out who I was, and 
forget about this beautiful feminine picture. I realized I was 
furious at myself, furious at my husband, because I’d left school. 

I used to put the kids in the car and just drive because I 
couldn’t bear to be alone in the house. I kept wanting to do 
something, but I was afraid to try. One day on a back road I saw 
an artist painting, and it was like a voice I couldn’t control 
saying “Do you give lessons?” 

I’d take care of the house and kids all day, and after I 
finished the dishes at night, I’d paint. Then I took the bedroom 
we were going to use for another baby—five children was part 
of my beautiful picture—and used it for a studio for myself. I 
remember one night working and working and suddenly it was 2 
A.M. and I was finished. I looked at the picture, and it was like 
finding myself. 

I can’t think what I was trying to do with my life before, 
trying to fit some picture of an oldtime woman pioneer. I don’t 
have to prove I’m a woman by sewing my own clothes. I am a 
woman, and I am myself, and I buy clothes and love them. I’m 
not such a darned patient, loving, perfect mother anymore. I 
don’t change the kids’ clothes top to bottom every day, and no 
more ruffles. But I seem to have more time to enjoy them. I don’t 
spend much time on housework now, but it’s done before my 
husband gets home. We bought a dishwasher. 

The longer it takes to wash dishes, the less time you have for 
anything else. It’s not creative, doing the same thing over and 
over. Why should a woman feel guilty at getting rid of this 
repetitive work. There’s no virtue in dishwashing, scrubbing 
floors. Dacron, dishwashers, drip dry—this is fine, this is the 
direction physical life should take. This is our time, our only 
time on earth. We can’t keep throwing it away. My time is all 
I’ve got, and this is what I want to do with it. 



I don’t need to make such a production of my marriage now 
because it’s real. Somehow, once I began to have the sense of 
myself, I became aware of my husband. Before, it was like he 
was part of me, not a separate human being. I guess it wasn’t till 
I stopped trying to be feminine that I began to enjoy being a 
woman. 


And then, there were others, teetering back and forth, aware of the 
problem but not yet quite sure what to do about it. The chairman of a 
suburban fund-raising committee said: 

I envy Jean who stays at home and does the work she wants 
to do. I haven’t opened my easel in two months. I keep getting so 
involved in committees I don’t care about. It’s the thing to do to 
get in with the crowd here. But it doesn’t make me feel quiet 
inside, the way I feel when I paint. An artist in the city told me, 
“You should take yourself more seriously. You can be an artist 
and a housewife and a mother—all three.” I guess the only thing 
that stops me is that it’s hard work. 


A young Ohio woman told me: 

Lately, I’ve felt this need. I felt we simply had to have a 
bigger house, put on an addition, or move to a better 
neighborhood. I went on a frantic round of entertaining but that 
was like living for the interruptions of your life. 

My husband thinks that being a good mother is the most 
important career there is. I think it’s even more important than a 
career. But I don’t think most women are all mother. I enjoy my 
kids, but I don’t like spending all my time with them. I’mjust not 
their age. I could make housework take up more of my time. But 
the floors don’t need vacuuming more than twice a week. My 
mother swept them every day. 

I always wanted to play the violin. When I went to college, 
girls who took music seriously were peculiar. Suddenly, it was 
as if some voice inside me said, now is the time, you’ll never 
get another chance. I felt embarrassed, practicing at forty. It 



exhausts me and hurts my shoulder, but it makes me feel at one 
with something larger than myself. The universe suddenly 
becomes real, and you’re part of it. You feel as if you really 
exist. 


It would be quite wrong for me to offer any woman easy how to 
answers to this problem There are no easy answers, in America 
today; it is difficult, painful, and takes perhaps a long time for each 
woman to find her own answer. First, she must unequivocally say 
“no” to the housewife image. This does not mean, of course, that she 
must divorce her husband, abandon her children, give up her home. 
She does not have to choose between marriage and career; that was 
the mistaken choice of the feminine mystique. In actual fact, it is not 
as difficult as the feminine mystique implies, to combine marriage 
and motherhood and even the kind of lifelong personal purpose that 
once was called “career.” It merely takes a new life plan—in terms 
of one’s whole life as a woman. 

The first step in that plan is to see housework for what it is—not a 
career, but something that must be done as quickly and efficiently as 
possible. Once a woman stops trying to make cooking, cleaning, 
washing, ironing, “something more,” she can say “no, I don’t want a 
stove with rounded corners, I don’t want four different kinds of 
soap.” She can say “no” to those mass daydreams of the women’s 
magazines and television, “no” to the depth researchers and 
manipulators who are trying to run her life. Then, she can use the 
vacuum cleaner and the dishwasher and all the automatic appliances, 
and even the instant mashed potatoes for what they are truly worth— 
to save time that can be used in more creative ways. 

The second step, and perhaps the most difficult for the products of 
sex-directed education, is to see marriage as it really is, brushing 
aside the veil of over-glorification imposed by the feminine 
mystique. Many women I talked to felt strangely discontented with 
their husbands, continually irritated with their children, when they 
saw marriage and motherhood as the final fulfillment of their lives. 
But when they began to use their various abilities with a purpose of 
their own in society, they not only spoke of a new feeling of 
“aliveness” or “completeness” in themselves, but of a new, though 
hard to define, difference in the way they felt about their husbands 
and children. Many echoed this woman’s words: 



The funny thing is, I enjoy my children more now that I’ve 
made room for myself. Before, when I was putting my whole 
self into the children, it was as if I was always looking for 
something through them. I couldn’t just enjoy them as I do now, 
as though they were a sunset, something outside me, separate. 
Before, I felt so tied down by them, I’d try to get away in my 
mind. Maybe a woman has to be by herself to be really with her 
children. 


A New England lawyer’s wife told me: 

I thought I had finished. I had come to the end of childhood, 
had married, had a baby, and I was happy with my marriage. But 
somehow I was disconsolate, because I assumed this was the 
end. I would take up upholstery one week, Sunday painting the 
next. My house was spotless. I devoted entirely too much time to 
entertaining my child. He didn’t need all that adult 
companionship. A grown woman playing with a child all day, 
disintegrating herself in a hundred directions to fill the time, 
cooking fancy food when no one needs it, and then furious if they 
don’t eat it—you lose your adult common sense, your whole 
sense of yourself as a human being. 

Now I’m studying history, one course a year. It’s work, but I 
haven’t missed a night in 2 1/2 years. Soon I’ll be teaching. I 
love being a wife and mother, but I know now that when 
marriage is the end of your life, because you have no other 
mission, it becomes a miserable, tawdry thing. Who said women 
have to be happy, to be amused, to be entertained? You have to 
work. You don’t have to have a job. But you have to tackle 
something yourself, and see it through, to feel alive. 


An hour a day, a weekend, or even a week off from motherhood is 
not the answer to the problem that has no name. That “mother’s hour 
off,”- as advised by child-and-family experts or puzzled doctors as 
the antidote for the housewife’s fatigue or trapped feeling, assumes 
automatically that a woman is “just a housewife,” now and forever a 
mother. A person fully used by his work can enjoy “time off.” But the 


mothers I talked to did not find any magical relief in an “hour off’ in 
fact, they often gave it up on the slightest pretext, either from guilt or 
from boredom. A woman who has no purpose of her own in society, 
a woman who cannot let herself think about the future because she is 
doing nothing to give herself a real identity in it, will continue to feel 
a desperation in the present—no matter how many “hours off” she 
takes. Even a very young woman today must think of herself as a 
human being first, not as a mother with time on her hands, and make a 
life plan in terms of her own abilities, a commitment of her own to 
society, with which her commitments as wife and mother can be 
integrated. 

A woman I interviewed, a mental-health educator who was for 
many years “just a housewife” in her suburban community, sums it 
up: “I remember my own feeling that life wasn’t full enough for me. I 
wasn’t using myself in terms of my capacities. It wasn’t enough 
making a home. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. You can’t 
just deny your intelligent mind; you need to be part of the social 
scheme.” 

And looking over the trees of her garden to the quiet, empty 
suburban street, she said: 

If you knock on any of these doors, how many women would 
you find whose abilities are being used? You’d find them 
drinking, or sitting around talking to other women and watching 
children play because they can’t bear to be alone, or watching 
TV or reading a book. Society hasn’t caught up with women yet, 
hasn’t found a way yet to use the skills and energies of women 
except to bear children. Over the last fifteen years, I think 
women have been running away from themselves. The reason 
the young ones have swallowed this feminine business is 
because they think if they go back and look for all their 
satisfaction in the home, it will be easier. But it won’t be. 
Somewhere along the line a woman, if she is going to come to 
terms with herself, has to find herself as a person. 


The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know 
herself as a person, is by creative work of her own. There is no other 
way. But a job, any job, is not the answer—in fact, it can be part of 
the trap. Women who do not look for jobs equal to their actual 



capacity, who do not let themselves develop the lifetime interests and 
goals which require serious education and training, who take a job at 
twenty or forty to “help out at home” or just to kill extra time, are 
walking, almost as surely as the ones who stay inside the housewife 
trap, to a nonexistent future. 

If a job is to be the way out of the trap for a woman, it must be a 
job that she can take seriously as part of a life plan, work in which 
she can grow as part of society. Suburban communities, particularly 
the new communities where social, cultural, educational, political, 
and recreational patterns are not as yet firmly established, offer 
numerous opportunities for the able, intelligent woman. But such 
work is not necessarily a “job.” In Westchester, on Long Island, in 
the Philadelphia suburbs, women have started mental-health clinics, 
art centers, day camps. In big cities and small towns, women all the 
way from New England to California have pioneered new 
movements in politics and education. Even if this work was not 
thought of as “job” or “career,” it was often so important to the 
various communities that professionals are now being paid for doing 
it. 

In some suburbs and communities there is now little work left for 
the nonprofessional that requires intelligence—except for the few 
positions of leadership which most women, these days, lack the 
independence, the strength, the self-confidence to take. If the 
community has a high proportion of educated women, there simply 
are not enough such posts to go around. As a result, community work 
often expands in a kind of self-serving structure of committees and 
red tape, in the purest sense of Parkinson’s law, until its real purpose 
seems to be just to keep women busy. Such busywork is not satisfying 
to mature women, nor does it help the immature to grow. This is not 
to say that being a den mother, or serving on a PTA committee, or 
organizing a covered-dish supper is not useful work; for a woman of 
intelligence and ability, it is simply not enough. 

One woman I interviewed had involved herself in an endless 
whirl of worthwhile community activities. But they led in no 
direction for her own future, nor did they truly utilize her exceptional 
intelligence. Indeed, her intelligence seemed to deteriorate; she 
suffered the problem that has no name with increasing severity until 
she took the first step toward a serious commitment. Today she is a 
“master teacher,” a serene wife and mother. 




At first, I took on the hospital fund-raising committee, the 
clerical volunteers committee for the clinic. I was class mother 
for the children’s field trips. I was taking piano lessons to the 
tune of $30 a week, paying baby sitters so I could play for my 
own amusement. I did the Dewey decimal system for the library 
we started, and the usual den mother and PTA. The financial 
outlay for all these things which were only needed to fill up my 
life was taking a good slice out of my husband’s income. And it 
still didn’t fill up my life. I was cranky and moody. I would 
burst into tears for no reason. I couldn’t even concentrate to 
finish a detective story. 

I was so busy, running from morning till night, and yet I never 
had any real feeling of satisfaction. You raise your kids, sure, 
but how can that justify your life? You have to have some 
ultimate objective, some long-term goal to keep you going. 
Community activities are short-term goals; you do a project; it’s 
done; then you have to hunt for another one. In community work, 
they say you mustn’t bother the young mothers with little 
children. This is the job of the middle-aged ones whose kids are 
grown. But it’s just the ones who are tied down with the kids 
who need to do this. When you’re not tied down by kids, drop 
that stuff—you need real work. 


Because of the feminine mystique (and perhaps because of the 
simple human fear of failure, when one does compete, without sexual 
privilege or excuse), it is the jump from amateur to professional that 
is often hardest for a woman on her way out of the trap. But even if a 
woman does not have to work to eat, she can find identity only in 
work that is of real value to society-—work for which, usually, our 
society pays. Being paid is, of course, more than a reward—it 
implies a definite commitment. For fear of that commitment, hundreds 
of able, educated suburban housewives today fool themselves about 
the writer or actress they might have been, or dabble at art or music 
in the dilettante’s limbo of “self-enrichment,” or apply for jobs as 
receptionists or saleswomen, jobs well below their actual abilities. 
These are also ways of evading growth. 

The growing boredom of American women with volunteer work, 
and their preference for paid jobs, no matter how low-level, has been 
attributed to the fact that professionals have taken over most of the 



posts in the community requiring intelligence. But the fact that women 
did not become professionals themselves, the reluctance of women in 
the last twenty years to commit themselves to work, paid or unpaid, 
requiring initiative, leadership and responsibility is due to the 
feminine mystique. This attitude of noncommitment among young 
housewives was confirmed by a recent study done in Westchester 
County.^ In an upper-income suburb, more than 50% of a group of 
housewives between 25 and 35, with husbands in the over-$25,000- 
a-year income group, wanted to go to work: 13% immediately, the 
rest in 5 to 15 years. Of those who planned to go to work, 3 out of 4 
felt inadequately prepared. (All of these women had some college 
education but only one a graduate degree; a third had married at 
twenty or before.) These women were not driven to go to work by 
economic need but by what the anthropologist who made the survey 
called “the psychological need to be economically productive.” 
Evidently, volunteer work did not meet this need; though 62% of 
these women were doing volunteer work, it was of the “one-day and 
under” variety. And though they wanted jobs and felt inadequately 
prepared, of the 45% taking courses, very few were working toward 
a degree. The element of phantasy in their work plans was witnessed 
by “the small businesses that open and close with sad regularity.” 
When an alumnae association sponsored a two-session forum in the 
suburb on “How Women in the Middle Years Can Return to Work,” 
twenty-five women attended. As a beginning step, each woman was 
asked to come to the second meeting with a resume. The resume took 
some thought, and, as the researcher put it, “sincerity of purpose.” 
Only one woman was serious enough to write the resume. 

In another suburb, there is a guidance center which in the early 
years of the mental-health movement gave real scope to the 
intelligence of college-educated women of the community. They 
never did therapy, of course, but in the early years they administered 
the center and led the educational parent-discussion groups. Now that 
“education for family living” has become professionalized, the center 
is administered and the discussion groups led by professionals, often 
brought in from the city, who have M.A.’s or doctorates in the field. 
In only a very few cases did the women who “found themselves” in 
the work of the guidance center go on in the new profession, and get 
their own M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s. Most backed off when to continue 
would have meant breaking away from the housewife role, and 
becoming seriously committed to a profession. 


Ironically, the only kind of work which permits an able woman to 
realize her abilities fully, to achieve identity in society in a life plan 
that can encompass marriage and motherhood, is the kind that was 
forbidden by the feminine mystique; the lifelong commitment to an art 
or science, to politics or profession. Such a commitment is not tied to 
a specific job or locality. It permits year-to-year variation—a full¬ 
time paid job in one community, part-time in another, exercise of the 
professional skill in serious volunteer work or a period of study 
during pregnancy or early motherhood when a full-time job is not 
feasible. It is a continuous thread, kept alive by work and study and 
contacts in the field, in any part of the country. 

The women I found who had made and kept alive such long-term 
commitments did not suffer the problem that has no name. Nor did 
they live in the housewife image. But music or art or politics offered 
no magic solution for the women who did not, or could not, commit 
themselves seriously. The “arts” seem, at first glance, to be the ideal 
answer for a woman. They can, after all, be practiced in the home. 
They do not necessarily imply that dreaded professionalism, they are 
suitably feminine, and seem to offer endless room for personal 
growth and identity, with no need to compete in society for pay. But I 
have noticed that when women do not take up painting or ceramics 
seriously enough to become professionals—to be paid for their work, 
or for teaching it to others, and to be recognized as a peer by other 
professionals—sooner or later, they cease dabbling; the Sunday 
painting, the idle ceramics do not bring that needed sense of self 
when they are of no value to anyone else. The amateur or dilettante 
whose own work is not good enough for anyone to want to pay to 
hear or see or read does not gain real status by it in society, or real 
personal identity. These are reserved for those who have made the 
effort, acquired the knowledge and expertise to become 
professionals. 

There are, of course, a number of practical problems involved in 
making a serious professional commitment. But somehow those 
problems only seem insurmountable when a woman is still half- 
submerged in the false dilemmas and guilts of the feminine mystique 
—or when her desire for “something more” is only phantasy, and she 
is unwilling to make the necessary effort. Over and over, women told 
me that the crucial step for them was simply to take the first trip to the 
alumnae employment agency, or to send for the application for 
teacher certification, or to make appointments with former job 



contacts in the city. It is amazing how many obstacles and 
rationalizations the feminine mystique can throw up to keep a woman 
from making that trip or writing that letter. 

One suburban housewife I knew had once been a newspaper 
woman, but she was sure she could never get that kind of job again; 
she had been away too long. And, of course, she couldn’t really leave 
her children (who, by then, were all in school during the day). As it 
turned out, when she finally decided to do something about it, she 
found an excellent job in her old field after only two trips into the 
city. Another woman, a psychiatric social worker, said that she could 
not take a regular agency job, only volunteer jobs without deadlines 
that she could put down when she felt like it, because she could not 
count on a cleaning woman. Actually, if she had hired a cleaning 
woman, which many of her neighbors were doing for much less 
reason, she would have had to commit herself to the kind of 
assignments that would have been a real test of her ability. Obviously 
she was afraid of such a test. 

A great many suburban housewives today step back from, or give 
up, volunteer activity, art, or job at the very point when all that is 
needed is a more serious commitment. The PTA leader won’t run for 
the school board. The League of Women \frters’ leader is afraid to 
move on into the rough mainstream of her political party. “Women 
can’t get a policy-making role,” she says. “I’m not going to lick 
stamps.” Of course, it would require more effort for her to win a 
policy-making role in her party against the prejudices and the 
competition of the men. 

Some women take the jobs but do not make the necessary new life 
plan. I interviewed two women of ability, both of whom were bored 
as housewives and both of whom got jobs in the same research 
institute. They loved the increasingly challenging work, and were 
quickly promoted. But, in their thirties, after ten years as housewives, 
they earned very little money. The first woman, clearly recognizing 
the future this work held for her, spent virtually her entire salary on a 
three-day-a-week cleaning woman. The second woman, who felt her 
work was justified only if it “helped out with family expenses,” 
would not spend any money for cleaning help. Nor did she consider 
asking her husband and children to help out with household chores, or 
save time by ordering groceries by phone and sending the laundry 
out. She quit her job after a year from sheer exhaustion. The first 
woman, who made the necessary household changes and sacrifices, 



today, at thirty-eight, has one of the leading jobs at the institute and 
makes a substantial contribution to her family’s income, over and 
above what she pays for her part-time household help. The second, 
after two weeks of “rest,” began to suffer the old desperation. But she 
persuaded herself that she will “cheat” her husband and children less 
by finding work she can do at home. 

The picture of the happy housewife doing creative work at home 
—painting, sculpting, writing—is one of the semi-delusions of the 
feminine mystique. There are men and women who can do it; but 
when a man works at home, his wife keeps the children strictly out of 
the way, or else. It is not so easy for a woman; if she is serious about 
her work she often must find some place away from home to do it, or 
risk becoming an ogre to her children in her impatient demands for 
privacy. Her attention is divided and her concentration interrupted, 
on the job and as a mother. A no-nonsense nine-to-five job, with a 
clear division between professional work and housework, requires 
much less discipline and is usually less lonely. Some of the 
stimulation and the new friendships that come from being part of the 
professional world can be lost by the woman who tries to fit her 
career into the physical confines of her housewife life. 

A woman must say “no” to the feminine mystique very clearly 
indeed to sustain the discipline and effort that any professional 
commitment requires. For the mystique is no mere intellectual 
construct. A great many people have, or think they have, a vested 
interest in “Occupation: housewife.” However long it may take for 
women’s magazines, sociologists, educators, and psychoanalysts to 
correct the mistakes that perpetuate the feminine mystique, a woman 
must deal with them now, in the prejudices, mistaken fears, and 
unnecessary dilemmas voiced by her husband; her friends and 
neighbors; perhaps her minister, priest, or rabbi; or her child’s 
kindergarten teacher; or the well-meaning social worker at the 
guidance clinic; or her own innocent little children. But resistance, 
from whatever source, is better seen for what it is. 

Even the traditional resistance of religious orthodoxy is masked 
today with the manipulative techniques of psychotherapy. Women of 
orthodox Catholic or Jewish origin do not easily break through the 
housewife image; it is enshrined in the canons of their religion, in the 
assumptions of their own and their husbands’ childhoods, and in their 
church’s dogmatic definitions of marriage and motherhood. The ease 
with which dogma can be dressed in the psychological tenets of the 



mystique can be seen in this “Suggested Outline for Married 
Couples’ Discussions” from the Family Life Bureau of the 
Archdiocese of New York. A panel of three or four married couples, 
after rehearsal by a “priest-moderator,” are instructed to raise the 
question: “Can a working wife be a challenge to the authority of the 
husband?” 

Most of the engaged couples are convinced that there is 
nothing unusual or wrong in the wife working....Don’t 
antagonize. Be suggestive, rather than dogmatic.... The panel 
couples should point out that the bride who is happy at a 9-to-5 
o’clock job has this to think about: 

• a. She may be subtly undermining her husband’s sense of 
vocation as the bread-winner and head of the house. The 
competitive business world can inculcate in the working 
bride attitudes and habits which may make it difficult for 
her to adjust to her husband’s leadership.... 

• c. At the end of a working day, she presents her husband 
with a tired mind and body at a time when he looks 
forward to the cheerful encouragement and fresh 
enthusiasm of his spouse.... 

• d. For some brides, the tension of doubling as business 
woman and part-time housewife may be one of several 
factors contributing to sterility... 


One Catholic women I interviewed withdrew from the state board 
of the League of Women \bters, when, in addition to the displeasure 
of the priest and her own husband, the school psychologist claimed 
that her daughter’s difficulties at school were due to her political 
activity. “It is more difficult for a Catholic woman to stay 
emancipated,” she told me. “I have retired. It will be better for 
everyone concerned if I am just a housewife.” At this point the 
telephone rang, and I eavesdropped with interest on a half-hour of 
high political strategy, evidently not of the League but of the local 
Democratic Party. The “retired” politician came back into the kitchen 
to finish preparing dinner, and confessed that she now hid her 
political activity at home “like an alcoholic or a drug addict, but I 
don’t seem to be able to give it up.” 



Another woman, of Jewish tradition, gave up her profession as a 
doctor when she became a doctor’s wife, devoting herself to bringing 
up their four children. Her husband was not overjoyed when she 
began brushing up to retake her medical exams after her youngest 
reached school age. An unassertive, quiet woman, she exerted almost 
unbelievable effort to obtain her license after fifteen years of 
inactivity. She told me apologetically: “You just can’t stop being 
interested. I tried to make myself, but I couldn’t.” And she confessed 
that when she gets a night call, she sneaks out as guiltily as if she 
were meeting a lover. 

Even to a woman of less orthodox tradition, the most powerful 
weapon of the feminine mystique is the argument that she rejects her 
husband and her children by working outside the home. If, for any 
reason, her child becomes ill or her husband has troubles of his own, 
the feminine mystique, insidious voices in the community, and even 
the woman’s own inner voice will blame her “rejection” of the 
housewife role. It is then that many a woman’s commitment to herself 
and society dies aborning or takes a serious detour. 

One woman told me that she gave up her job in television to 
become “just a housewife” because her husband suddenly decided 
his troubles in his own profession were caused by her failure to 
“play the feminine role” she was trying to “compete” with him; she 
wanted “to wear the pants.” She, like most women today, was 
vulnerable to such charges—one psychiatrist calls it the “career 
woman’s guilt syndrome.” And so she began to devote all the 
energies she had once put into her work to running her family—and to 
a nagging critical interest in her husband’s career. 

In her spare time in the suburbs, however, she rather 
absentmindedly achieved flamboyant local success as the director of 
a little-theater group. This, on top of her critical attention to her 
husband’s career, was far more destructive to his ego and a much 
more constant irritation to him and to her children than her 
professional work in which she had competed impersonally with 
other professionals in a world far away from home. One day, when 
she was directing a little-theater rehearsal, her son was hit by an 
automobile. She blamed herself for the accident, and so she gave up 
the little-theater group, resolving this time, cross her heart, that she 
would be “just a housewife.” 

She suffered, almost immediately, a severe case of the problem 
that has no name; her depression and dependence made her husband’s 



life hell. She sought analytic help, and in a departure from the 
nondirective approach of orthodox analysts, her therapist virtually 
ordered her to get back to work. She started writing a serious novel 
with finally the kind of commitment she had evaded, even when she 
had a job. In her absorption, she stopped worrying about her 
husband’s career; imperceptibly, she stopped phantasying another 
accident every time her son was out of her sight. And still, though she 
was too far along to retreat, she sometimes wondered if she were 
putting her marriage on the chopping block. 

Contrary to the mystique, her husband—reacting either to the 
contagious example of her commitment, or to the breathing space 
afforded by the cessation of her hysterical dependence, or for 
independent reasons of his own—buckled down to the equivalent of 
that novel in his own career. There were still problems, of course, 
but not the old ones; when they broke out of their own traps, 
somehow their relationship with each other began growing again. 

Still, with every kind of growth, there are risks. I encountered one 
woman in my interviews whose husband divorced her shortly after 
she went to work. Their marriage had become extremely destructive. 
The sense of identity that the woman achieved from her work may 
have made her less willing to accept the destructiveness, and perhaps 
precipitated the divorce, but it also made her more able to survive it. 

In other instances, however, women told me that the violent 
objections of their husbands disappeared when they finally made up 
their own minds and went to work. Had they magnified their 
husband’s objections to evade decision themselves? Husbands I have 
interviewed in this same context were sometimes surprised to find it 
“a relief’ to be no longer the only sun and moon in their wives’ 
world; they were the object of less nagging and fewer insatiable 
demands and they no longer had to feel guilt over their wives’ 
discontent. As one man put it: “Not only is the financial burden 
lighter—and frankly, that is a relief—but the whole burden of living 
seems easier since Margaret went to work.” 

There are husbands, however, whose resistance is not so easily 
dispelled. The husband who is unable to bear his wife’s saying “no” 
to the feminine mystique often has been seduced himself by the 
infantile phantasy of having an ever-present mother, or is trying to 
relive that phantasy through his children. It is difficult for a woman to 
tell such a husband that she is not his mother and that their children 
will be better off without her constant attention. Perhaps if she 



becomes more truly herself and refuses to act out his phantasy any 
longer, he will suddenly wake up and see her again. And then again, 
perhaps he will look for another mother. 

Another hazard a woman faces on her way out of the housewife 
trap is the hostility of other housewives. Just as the man evading 
growth in his own work resents his wife’s growth, so women who 
are living vicariously through their husbands and children resent the 
woman who has a life of her own. At dinner parties, the nursery 
school affair, the PTA open house, a woman who is more than just a 
housewife can expect a few barbs from her suburban neighbors. She 
no longer has the time for idle gossip over endless cups of coffee in 
the breakfast nook; she can no longer share with other wives that cozy 
“we’re all in the same boat” illusion; her very presence rocks that 
boat. And she can expect her home, her husband, and her children to 
be scrutinized with more than the usual curiosity for the slightest sign 
of a “problem.” This kind of hostility, however, sometimes masks a 
secret envy. The most hostile of the “happy housewives” may be the 
first to ask her neighbor with the new career for advice about moving 
on herself. 

For the woman who moves on, there is always the sense of loss 
that accompanies change: old friends, familiar and reassuring 
routines lost, the new ones not yet clear. It is so much easier for a 
woman to say “yes” to the feminine mystique, and not risk the pains 
of moving on, that the will to make the effort—“ambition”—is as 
necessary as ability itself, if she is going to move out of the 
housewife trap. “Ambition,” like “career,” has been made a dirty 
word by the feminine mystique. When Polly Weaver, “College and 
Careers” editor of Mademoiselle, surveyed 400 women in 1956 on 
the subject of “ambition” and “competition,”- most of them had 
“guilty feelings” about being ambitious. They tried, in Miss Weaver’s 
words, to “make it uplifting, not worldly and selfish like eating. We 
were surprised.. .at the number of women who drive themselves from 
morning to night for a job or the community or church, for example, 
but don’t want a nickel’s worth out of it for themselves. They don’t 
want money, social position, power, influence, recognition.... Are 
these women fooling themselves?” 

The mystique would have women renounce ambition for 
themselves. Marriage and motherhood is the end; after that, women 
are supposed to be ambitious only for their husbands and their 
children. Many women who indeed “fool themselves” push husband 


and children to fulfill that unadmitted ambition of their own. There 
were, however, many frankly ambitious women among those who 
responded to the Mademoiselle survey—and they did not seem to 
suffer from it. 

The ambitious women who answered our questionnaire had 
few regrets over sacrifices of sweet old friends, family picnics, 
and time for reading books no one talks about. They got more 
than they gave up, they said, and cited new friends, the larger 
world they move in, the great spurts of growth they had when 
they worked with the brilliant and talented—and most of all the 
satisfaction of working at full steam, putt-putting along like a 
pressure cooker. In fact, some happy ambitious women make the 
people around them happy—their husbands, children, their 
colleagues.... A very ambitious woman is not happy, either, 
leaving her prestige entirely to her husband’s success.... To the 
active, ambitious woman, ambition is the thread that runs 
through her life from beginning to end, holding it together and 
enabling her to think of her life as a work of art instead of a 
collection of fragments... 


For the women I interviewed who had suffered and solved the 
problem that has no name, to fulfill an ambition of their own, long 
buried or brand new, to work at top capacity, to have a sense of 
achievement, was like finding a missing piece in the puzzle of their 
lives. The money they earned often made life easier for the whole 
family, but none of them pretended this was the only reason they 
worked, or the main thing they got out of it. That sense of being 
complete and fully a part of the world—“no longer an island, part of 
the mainland”—had come back. They knew that it did not come from 
the work alone, but from the whole—their marriage, homes, children, 
work, their changing, growing links with the community. They were 
once again human beings, not “just housewives.” Such women are the 
lucky ones. Some may have been driven to that ambition by childhood 
rejection, by an ugly-duckling adolescence, by unhappiness in 
marriage, by divorce or widowhood. It is both an irony and an 
indictment of the feminine mystique that it often forced the unhappy 
ones, the ugly ducklings, to find themselves, while girls who fitted the 
image became adjusted “happy” housewives and have never found 



out who they are. But to say that “frustration” can be good for a girl 
would be to miss the point; such frustration should not have to be the 
price of identity for a woman, nor is it in itself the key The mystique 
has kept both pretty girls and ugly ones, who might have written 
poems like Edith Sitwell, from discovering their own gifts; kept 
happy wives and unhappy ones who might have found themselves as 
Ruth Benedict did in anthropology, from even discovering their own 
field. And suddenly the final piece of the puzzle fits into place. 

There was one thing without which even the most frustrated 
seldom found their way out of the trap. And, regardless of childhood 
experience, regardless of luck in marriage, there was one thing that 
produced frustration in all women of this time who tried to adjust to 
the housewife image. There was one thing shared by all I encountered 
who finally found their own way. 

The key to the trap is, of course, education. The feminine mystique 
has made higher education for women seem suspect, unnecessary and 
even dangerous. But I think that education, and only education, has 
saved, and can continue to save, American women from the greater 
dangers of the feminine mystique. 

In 1957 when I was asked to do an alumnae questionnaire of my 
own college classmates fifteen years after their graduation from 
Smith, I seized on the chance, thinking that I could disprove the 
growing belief that education made women “masculine,” hampered 
their sexual fulfillment, caused unnecessary co nfl icts and frustrations. 
I discovered that the critics were half-right; education was dangerous 
and frustrating—but only when women did not use it. 

Of the 200 women who answered that questionnaire in 1957, 89 
per cent were housewives. They had lived through all the possible 
frustrations that education can cause in housewives. But when they 
were asked, “What difficulties have you found in working out your 
role as a woman?...What are the chief satisfactions and frustrations 
of your life today?...How have you changed inside?...How do you 
feel about getting older?...What do you wish you had done 
differently?...“it was discovered that their real problems, as women, 
were not caused by their education. In general, they regretted only 
one thing—that they had not taken their education seriously enough, 
that they had not planned to put it to serious use. 

Of the 97 per cent of these women who married—usually about 
three years after college—only 3 per cent had been divorced; of 20 
per cent who had been interested in another man since marriage, most 



“did nothing about it.” As mothers, 86 per cent planned their 
children’s births and enjoyed their pregnancies; 70 per cent breastfed 
their babies from one to nine months. They had more children than 
their mothers (average: 2.94), but only 10 per cent had ever felt 
“martyred” as mothers. Through 99 per cent reported that sex was 
only “one factor among many” in their lives, they neither felt over and 
done with sexually, nor were they just beginning to feel the sexual 
satisfaction of being a woman. Some 85 per cent reported that sex 
“gets better with the years,” but they also found it “less important 
than it used to be.” They shared life with their husbands “as frilly as 
one can with another human being,” but 75 per cent admitted readily 
that they could not share all of it. 

Most of them (60 per cent) could not honestly say, in reporting 
their main occupation as homemaker, that they found it “totally 
fulfilling.” They only spent an average of four hours a day on 
housework and they did not “enjoy” it. It was perhaps true that their 
education made them frustrated in their role as housewives. Educated 
before the era of the feminine mystique, many of them had faced a 
sharp break from their emerging identity in that housewife role. And 
yet most of these women continued to grow within the framework of 
suburban housewifery—perhaps because of the autonomy, the sense 
of purpose, the commitment to larger values which their education 
had given them. 

Some 79 per cent had found some way to pursue the goals that 
education had given them, for the most part within the physical 
confines of their communities. The old Helen Hokinson caricatures 
notwithstanding, their assumption of community responsibility was, 
in general, an act of maturity, a commitment that used and renewed 
strength of self. For these women, community activity almost always 
had the stamp of innovation and individuality, rather than the stamp of 
conformity, status-seeking, or escape. They set up cooperative 
nursery schools in suburbs where none existed; they started teenage 
canteens and libraries in schools where Johnny wasn’t reading 
because, quite simply, there were no good books. They innovated 
new educational programs that finally became a part of the 
curriculum. One was personally instrumental in getting 13,000 
signatures for a popular referendum to get politics out of the school 
system. One publicly spoke out for desegregation of schools in the 
South. One got white children to attend a de facto segregated school 
in the North. One pushed an appropriation for mental-health clinics 



through a Western state legislature. One set up museum art programs 
for school children in each of three cities she had lived in since 
marriage. Others started or led suburban choral groups, civic 
theaters, foreign-policy study groups. Thirty per cent were active in 
local party politics, from the committee level to the state assembly. 
Over 90 per cent reported that they read the newspaper thoroughly 
every day and voted regularly. They evidently never watched a 
daytime television program and seemed almost never to play bridge, 
or read women’s magazines. Of the fifteen to three hundred books 
apiece they had read in that one year, half were not best sellers. 

Facing forty, most of these women could report quite frankly that 
their hair was graying, and their “skin looks faded and tired,” and yet 
say, with not much regret for lost youth, “I have a growing sense of 
self-realization, inner serenity and strength.” “I have become more 
my real self.” 

“How do you visualize your life after your children are grown?” 
they were asked on the questionnaire. Most of them (60 per cent) had 
concrete plans for work or study. They planned to finish their 
education finally, for many who had no career ambitions in college 
had them now. A few had reached “the depths of bitterness,” “the 
verge of disillusion and despair,” trying to live just as housewives. A 
few confessed longingly that “running my house and raising four 
children does not really use my education or the ability I once 
seemed to have. If only it were possible to combine motherhood and 
a career.” And the most bitter were those who said: “Never have 
found out what kind of a person I am. I wasted college trying to find 
myself in social life. I wish now that I had gone into something 
deeply enough to have a creative life of my own.” But most did 
know, now, who they were and what they wanted to do; and 80 per 
cent regretted not having planned, seriously, to use their education in 
professional work. Passive appreciation and even active 
participation in community affairs would no longer be enough when 
their children were a little older. Many women reported that they 
were planning to teach; fortunately for them, the great need for 
teachers gave them a chance to get back in the stream. Others 
anticipated years of further study before they would be qualified in 
their chosen fields. 

These 200 Smith graduates have their counterparts in women all 
over the country, women of intelligence and ability, fighting their way 
out of the housewife trap, or never really trapped at all because of 



their education. But these graduates of 1942 were among the last 
American women educated before the feminine mystique. 

In another questionnaire answered by almost 10,000 graduates of 
Mount Holyoke in 1962—its 125th anniversary year—one sees the 
effect of the mystique on women educated in the last two decades. 
The Mount Holyoke alumnae showed a similar high marriage and 
low divorce rate (2 per cent over-all). But before 1942, most were 
married at twenty-five or older; after 1942, the marriage age showed 
a dramatic drop, and the percentage having four or more children 
showed a dramatic rise. Before 1942, two-thirds or more of the 
graduates went on to further study; that proportion has steadily 
declined. Few, in recent classes, have won advanced degrees in the 
arts, sciences, law, medicine, education, compared to the 40 per cent 
in 1937. A drastically decreasing number also seem to share the 
larger vistas of national or international commitment; participation in 
local political clubs had dropped to 12 per cent by the class of 1952. 
From 1942, on few graduates had any professional affiliation. Half of 
all the Mount Holyoke alumnae had worked at one time but were no 
longer working, primarily because they had chosen “the role of 
housewife.” Some had returned to work—both to supplement income 
and because they liked to work. But in the classes from 1942 on, 
where most of the women were now housewives, nearly half did not 
intend to return to work. 

The declining area of commitment to the world outside the home 
from 1942 on is a clear indication of the effect of the feminine 
mystique on educated women. Having seen the desperate emptiness, 
the “trapped” feeling of many young women who were educated 
under the mystique to be “just a housewife,” I realize the significance 
of my classmates’ experience. Because of their education many of 
them were able to combine serious commitments of their own with 
marriage and family. They could participate in community activities 
that required intelligence and responsibility, and move on, with a few 
years’ preparation, into professional social work or teaching. They 
could get jobs as substitute teachers or part-time social workers to 
finance the courses needed for certification. They had often grown to 
the point where they did not want to return to the fields they had 
worked in after college, and they could even get into a new field with 
the core of autonomy that their education had given them. 

But what of the young women today who have never had a taste of 
higher education, who quit college to marry or marked time in their 



classrooms waiting for the “right man?” What will they be at forty? 
Housewives in every suburb and city are seeking more education 
today, as if a course, any course, will give them the identity they are 
groping toward. But the courses they take, and the courses they are 
offered, are seldom intended for real use in society. Even more than 
the education she evaded at eighteen in sexual phantasy, the education 
a woman can get at forty is permeated, contaminated, diluted by the 
feminine mystique. 

Courses in golf, bridge, rug-hooking, gourmet cooking, sewing are 
intended, I suppose, for real use, by women who stay in the 
housewife trap. The so-called intellectual courses offered in the 
usual adult education centers—art appreciation, ceramics, short-story 
writing, conversational French, Great Books, astronomy in the Space 
Age—are intended only as “self-enrichment.” The study, the effort, 
even the homework that imply a long-term commitment are not 
expected of the housewife. 

Actually, many women who take these courses desperately need 
serious education; but if they have never had a taste of it, they do not 
know how and where to look for it, nor do they even understand that 
so many adult education courses are unsatisfactory simply because 
they are not serious. The dimension of reality essential even to “self- 
enrichment” is barred, almost by definition, in a course specifically 
designed for “housewives.” This is true, even where the institution 
giving the course has the highest standards. Recently, Radcliffe 
announced an “Institute for Executives’ Wives” (to be followed 
presumably by an “Institute for Scientists’ Wives,” or an “Institute for 
Artists’ Wives,” or an “Institute for College Professors’ Wives”). 
The executive’s wife or the scientist’s wife, at thirty-five or forty, 
whose children are all at school is hardly going to be helped to the 
new identity she needs by learning to take a more detailed, vicarious 
share of her husband’s world. What she needs is training for creative 
work of her own. 

Among the women I interviewed, education was the key to the 
problem that has no name only when it was part of a new life plan, 
and meant for serious use in society—amateur or professional. They 
were able to find such education only in the regular colleges and 
universities. Despite the wishful thinking engendered by the feminine 
mystique in girls and in their educators, an education evaded at 
eighteen or twenty-one is insuperably harder to obtain at thirty-one or 
thirty-eight or forty-one, by a woman who has a husband and three or 



four children and a home. She faces, in the college or university, the 
prejudices created by the feminine mystique. No matter how brief her 
absence from the academic proving ground, she will have to 
demonstrate her seriousness of purpose over and over again to be 
readmitted. She must then compete with the teeming hordes of 
children she and others like her have overproduced in this era. It is 
not easy for a grown woman to sit through courses geared to 
teenagers, to be treated as a teenager again, to have to prove that she 
deserves to be taken as seriously as a teenager. A woman has to 
exercise great ingenuity, endure many rebuffs and disappointments, to 
find an education that fits her need, and also make it fit her other 
commitments as wife and mother. 

One woman I interviewed who had never gone to college, 
decided, after psychotherapy, to take two courses a year at a nearby 
university which, fortunately, had an evening school. At first, she had 
no idea where it was leading her, but after two years, she decided to 
major in history and prepare to teach it in high school. She 
maintained a good record, even though she was often impatient with 
the slow pace and the busywork. But, at least, studying with some 
purpose made her feel better than when she used to read mystery 
stories or magazines at the playground. Above all, it was leading to 
something real for the future. But at the rate of two courses a year 
(which then cost $420, and two evenings a week in class), it would 
have taken her ten years to get a B.A. The second year, money was 
scarce, and she could only take one course. She could not apply for a 
student loan unless she went full time, which she could not do until 
her youngest was in first grade. In spite of it all, she stuck it out that 
way for four years—noticing that more and more of the other 
housewives in her classes dropped out because of money, or because 
“the whole thing was going to take too long.” 

Then, with her youngest in first grade, she became a full-time 
student in the regular college, where the pace was even slower 
because the students were “less serious.” She couldn’t endure the 
thought of all the years ahead to get an M.A. (which she would need 
to teach high-school history in that state), so she switched to an 
education major. She certainly would not have continued this 
expensive, tortuous education if, by now, she had not had a clear life 
plan to use it, a plan that required it. Committed to elementary 
teaching, she was able to get a government loan for part of her full¬ 
time tuition (now exceeding $1,000 a year), and in another two years 



she will be finished. 

Even against such enormous obstacles, more and more women 
with virtually no help from society and with belated and begrudging 
encouragement from educators themselves, are going back to school 
to get the education they need. Their determination betrays women’s 
underestimated human strength and their urgent need to use it. But 
only the strongest, after nearly twenty years of the feminine mystique, 
can move on by themselves. For this is not just the private problem of 
each individual woman. There are implications of the feminine 
mystique that must be faced on a national scale. 

The problem that has no name—which is simply the fact that 
American women are kept from growing to their full human 
capacities—is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental 
health of our country than any known disease. Consider the high 
incidence of emotional breakdown of women in the “role crises” of 
their twenties and thirties; the alcoholism and suicides in their forties 
and fifties; the housewives’ monopolization of all doctors’ time. 
Consider the prevalence of teenage marriages, the growing rate of 
illegitimate pregnancies, and even more seriously, the pathology of 
mother-child symbiosis. Consider the alarming passivity of American 
teenagers. If we continue to produce millions of young mothers who 
stop their growth and education short of identity, without a strong 
core of human values to pass on to their children, we are committing, 
quite simply, genocide, starting with the mass burial of American 
women and ending with the progressive dehumanization of their sons 
and daughters. 

These problems cannot be solved by medicine, or even by 
psychotherapy. We need a drastic reshaping of the cultural image of 
femininity that will permit women to reach maturity, identity, 
completeness of self, without conflict with sexual fulfillment. A 
massive attempt must be made by educators and parents—and 
ministers, magazine editors, manipulators, guidance counselors—to 
stop the early-marriage movement, stop girls from growing up 
wanting to be “just a housewife,” stop it by insisting, with the same 
attention from childhood on that parents and educators give to boys, 
that girls develop the resources of self, goals that will permit them to 
find their own identity. 

It is, of course, no easier for an educator to say “no” to the 
feminine mystique than for an individual girl or woman. Even the 
most advanced of educators, seriously concerned with the desperate 



need of housewives with leftover lives on their hands, hesitate to 
buck the tide of early marriage. They have been browbeaten by the 
oracles of popularized psychoanalysis and still tremble with guilt at 
the thought of interfering with a woman’s sexual fulfillment. The 
rearguard argument offered by the oracles who are, in some cases, 
right on college campuses themselves, is that since the primary road 
to identity for a woman is marriage and motherhood, serious 
educational interests or commitments which may cause conflicts in 
her role as wife and mother should be postponed until the 
childbearing years are over. Such a warning was made in 1962 by a 
psychiatric consultant to Yale University—which had been 
considering admitting women as undergraduates for the same serious 
education it gives men. 

Many young women—if not the majority—seem to be 
incapable of dealing with future long-range intellectual interests 
until they have proceeded through the more basic phases of their 
own healthy growth as women.... To be well done, the mother’s 
job in training children and shaping the life of her family should 
draw on all a woman’s resources, emotional and intellectual, 
and upon all her skills. The better her training, the better chance 
she will have to do the job well, provided that emotional 
roadblocks do not stand in her way: provided, that is, that she 
has established a good basis for the development of adult 
femininity, and that during the course of her higher education, 
she is not subjected to pressures which adversely affect that 
development... .To urge upon her conflicting goals, to stress that 
a career and a profession in the man’s world should be the first 
consideration in planning her life, can adversely affect the full 
development of her identity.... Of all the social freedoms won 
by her grandmothers, she prizes first the freedom to be a healthy, 
fulfilled woman, and she wants to be free of guilt and conflict 
about it.... This means that though jobs are often possible within 
the framework of marriage, “careers” rarely are.. .- 


The fact remains that the girl who wastes—as waste she does— 
her college years without acquiring serious interests, and wastes her 
early job years marking time until she finds a man, gambles with the 


possibilities for an identity of her own, as well as the possibilities 
for sexual fulfillment and wholly affirmed motherhood. The educators 
who encourage a woman to postpone larger interests until her 
children are grown make it virtually impossible for her ever to 
acquire them. It is not that easy for a woman who has defined herself 
wholly as wife and mother for ten or fifteen or twenty years to find 
new identity at thirty-five or forty or fifty. The ones who are able to 
do it are, quite frankly, the ones who made serious commitments to 
their earlier education, the ones who wanted and once worked at 
careers, the ones who bring to marriage and motherhood a sense of 
their own identity—not those who somehow hope to acquire it later 
on. A recent study of fifty women college graduates in an eastern 
suburb and city, the year after the oldest child had left home, showed 
that, with very few exceptions, the only women who had any interests 
to pursue—in work, in community activities, or in the arts—had 
acquired them in college. The ones who lacked such interests were 
not acquiring them now; they slept late, in their “empty nests,” and 
looked forward only to death. 

Educators at every women’s college, at every university, junior 
college, and community college, must see to it that women make a 
lifetime commitment (call it a “life plan,” a “vocation,” a “life 
purpose” if that dirty word career has too many celibate 
connotations) to a field of thought, to work of serious importance to 
society. They must expect the girl as well as the boy to take some 
field seriously enough to want to pursue it for life. This does not 
mean abandoning liberal education for women in favor of “how to” 
vocational courses. Liberal education, as it is given at the best of 
colleges and universities, not only trains the mind but provides an 
ineradicable core of human values. But liberal education must be 
planned for serious use, not merely dilettantism or passive 
appreciation. As boys at Harvard or Yale or Columbia or Chicago go 
on from the liberal arts core to study architecture, medicine, law, 
science, girls must be encouraged to go on, to make a life plan. It has 
been shown that girls with this kind of a commitment are less eager to 
rush into early marriage, less panicky about finding a man, more 
responsible for their sexual behavior.- Most of them marry, of 
course, but on a much more mature basis. Their marriages then are 
not an escape but a commitment shared by two people that becomes 
part of their commitment to themselves and society. If, in fact, girls 


are educated to make such commitments, the question of sex and 
when they marry will lose its overwhelming importance.- It is the 
fact that women have no identity of their own that makes sex, love, 
marriage, and children seem the only and essential facts of women’s 
life. 

In the face of the feminine mystique with its powerful hidden 
deterrents, educators must realize that they cannot inspire young 
women to commit themselves seriously to their education without 
taking some extraordinary measures. The few so far attempted barely 
come to grips with the problem. Mary Bunting’s new Institute for 
Independent Study at Radcliffe is fine for women who already know 
what they want to do, who have pursued their studies to the Ph.D. or 
are already active in the arts, and merely need some respite from 
motherhood to get back in the mainstream. Even more important, the 
presence of these women on the campus, women who have babies 
and husbands and who are still deeply committed to their own work, 
will undoubtedly help dispel the image of the celibate career woman 
and fire some of those Radcliffe sophomores out of the “climate of 
unexpectation” that permits them to meet the nation’s highest standard 
of educational excellence to use it later only in marriage and 
motherhood. This is what Mary Bunting had in mind. And it can be 
done elsewhere, in even simpler ways. 

It would pay every college and university that wants to encourage 
women to take education seriously to recruit for their faculties all the 
women they can find who have combined marriage and motherhood 
with the life of the mind—even if it means concessions for 
pregnancies or breaking the old rule about hiring the wife of the male 
associate professor who has her own perfectly respectable M.A. or 
Ph.D. As for the unmarried woman scholars, they must no longer be 
treated like lepers. The simple truth is that they have taken their 
existence seriously, and have fulfilled their human potential. They 
might well be, and often are, envied by women who live the very 
image of opulent togetherness, but have forfeited themselves. Women, 
as well as men, who are rooted in human work are rooted in life. 

It is essential, above all, for educators themselves to say “no” to 
the feminine mystique and face the fact that the only point in educating 
women is to educate them to the limit of their ability. Women do not 
need courses in “marriage and the family” to marry and raise 
families; they do not need courses in homemaking to make homes. But 
they must study science—to discover in science; study the thought of 


the past—to create new thought; study society—to pioneer in society. 
Educators must also give up these “one thing at a time” compromises. 
That separate layering of “education,” “sex,” “marriage,” 
“motherhood,” “interests for the last third of life,” will not solve the 
role crisis. Women must be educated to a new integration of roles. 
The more they are encouraged to make that new life plan—integrating 
a serious, lifelong commitment to society with marriage and 
motherhood—the less conflicts and unnecessary frustrations they will 
feel as wives and mothers, and the less their daughters will make 
mistaken choices for lack of a full image of woman’s identity. 

I could see this in investigating college girls’ rush to early 
marriage. The few who were not in such a desperate hurry to “get a 
man” and who committed themselves to serious long-range interests 
—evidently not worried that they would thereby lose their 
“femininity”—almost all had mothers, or other private images of 
women, who were committed to some serious purpose. (“My mother 
happens to be a teacher.” “My best friend’s mother is a doctor; she 
always seems so busy and happy.”) 

Education itself can help provide that new image—and the spark 
in girls to create their own—as soon as it stops compromising and 
temporizing with the old image of “woman’s role.” For women as 
well as men, education is and must be the matrix of human evolution. 
If today American women are finally breaking out of the housewife 
trap in search of new identity, it is quite simply because so many 
women have had a taste of higher education—unfinished, unfocused, 
but still powerful enough to force them on. 

For that last and most important battle can be fought in the mind 
and spirit of woman herself. Even without a private image, many 
girls in America who have been educated simply as people were 
given a strong enough sense of their human possibility to carry them 
past the old femininity, past that search for security in man’s love, to 
find a new self. A Swarthmore graduate, entering her internship, told 
me that at first, as she felt herself getting more and more 
“independent” in college, she worried a lot about having dates and 
getting married, wanted to “latch on to a boy.” “I tried to beat myself 
down to be feminine. Then I got interested in what I was doing and 
stopped worrying,” she said. 

It’s as if you’ve made some kind of shift. You begin to feel 
your competence in doing things. Like a baby learning to walk. 



Your mind begins to expand. You find your own field. And 
that’s a wonderful thing. The love of doing the work and the 
feeling there’s something there and you can trust it. It’s worth the 
unhappiness. They say a man has to suffer to grow, maybe 
something like that has to happen to women too. You begin not 
to be afraid to be yourself. 


Drastic steps must now be taken to re-educate the women who 
were deluded or cheated by the feminine mystique. Many of the 
women I interviewed who felt “trapped” as housewives have in the 
last few years started to move out of the trap. But there are as many 
others who are sinking back again, because they did not find out in 
time what they wanted to do, or because they were not able to find a 
way to do it. In almost every case, it took too much time, too much 
money, using existing educational facilities. Few housewives can 
afford full-time study. Even if colleges admit them on a part-time 
basis—and many will not—few women can endure the slow-motion 
pace of usual undergraduate college education stretched over ten or 
more years. Some institutions are now willing to gamble on 
housewives, but will they be as willing when the flood of their 
college-bound offspring reaches its full height? The pilot programs 
that have been started at Sarah Lawrence and the University of 
Minnesota begin to show the way, but they do not face the time- 
money problem which is, for so many women, the insurmountable 
one. 

What is needed now is a national educational program, similar to 
the GI bill, for women who seriously want to continue or resume 
their education—and who are willing to commit themselves to its use 
in a profession. The bill would provide properly qualified women 
with tuition fees, plus an additional subsidy to defray other expenses 
—books, travel, even, if necessary, some household help. Such a 
measure would cost far less than the GI bill. It would permit mothers 
to use existing educational facilities on a part-time basis and carry on 
individual study and research projects at home during the years when 
regular classroom attendance is impossible. The whole concept of 
women’s education would be regeared from four-year college to a 
life plan under which a woman could continue her education, without 
conflict with her marriage, her husband and her children. 

The GI’s, matured by war, needed education to find their identity 



in society. In no mood for time-wasting, they astonished their 
teachers and themselves by their scholastic performance. Women 
who have matured during the housewife moratorium can be counted 
on for similar performance. Their desperate need for education and 
the desperate need of this nation for the untapped reserves of 
women’s intelligence in all the professions justify these emergency 
measures.- 

For those women who did not go to college, or quit too soon, for 
those who are no longer interested in their former field, or who never 
took their education seriously, I would suggest first of all an intensive 
concentrated re-immersion in, quite simply, the humanities—not 
abridgments and selections like the usual freshman or sophomore 
survey, but an intensive study like the educational experiments 
attempted by the Bell Telephone Company or the Ford Foundation for 
young executives who had conformed so completely to the role of 
organization man that they were not capable of the initiative and 
vision required in top executive ranks. For women, this could be 
done by a national program, along the lines of the Danish Folk-High- 
School movement, which would first bring the housewife back into 
the mainstream of thought with a concentrated six-week summer 
course, a sort of intellectual “shock therapy.” She would be 
subsidized so that she could leave home and go to a resident college, 
which is not otherwise used during the summer. Or she could go to a 
metropolitan center on an equally intensive basis, five days a week 
for six or eight weeks during the summer, with a day camp provided 
for the children. 

Assume that this educational shock treatment awakens able 
women to purposes requiring the equivalent of a four-year college 
program for further professional training. That college program could 
be completed in four years or less, without full-time classroom 
attendance, by a combination of these summer institutes, plus 
prescribed reading, papers, and projects that could be done during 
the winter at home. Courses taken on television or at local community 
colleges and universities on an extension basis, could be combined 
with tutorial conferences at midyear or every month. The courses 
would be taken for credit, and the customary degrees would be 
earned. Some system of “equivalents” would have to be worked out, 
not to give a woman credit for work that does not meet requirements, 
but to give her credit for truly serious work, even if it is done at 
times, places, and in ways that violate conventional academic 


standards. 

A number of universities automatically bar housewives by barring 
part-time undergraduate or graduate work. Perhaps they have been 
burned by dilettantes. But part-time college work, graduate or 
undergraduate, geared to a serious plan, is the only kind of education 
that can prevent a housewife from becoming a dilettante; it is the only 
way a woman with husband and children can get, or continue, an 
education. It could also be the most practical arrangement from the 
university’s point of view. With their facilities already overtaxed by 
population pressures, universities and women alike would benefit 
from a study program that does not require regular classroom 
attendance. While it makes a great deal of sense for the University of 
Minnesota to work out its excellent Plan for Women’s Continuing 
Education— in terms of the regular university facilities, such a plan 
will not help the woman who must begin her education all over again 
to find out what she wants to do. But existing facilities, in any 
institution, can be used to fill in the gaps once a woman is under way 
on her life plan. 

Colleges and universities also need a new life plan—to become 
lifetime institutions for their students; offer them guidance, take care 
of their records, and keep track of their advanced work or refresher 
courses, no matter where they are taken. How much greater that 
allegiance and financial support from their alumnae if, instead of the 
teaparties to raise funds and a sentimental reunion every fifth June, a 
woman could look to her college for continuing education and 
guidance. Barnard alumnae can, and do, come back and take, free, 
any course at any time, if they meet the qualifications for it. All 
colleges could conduct summer institutes to keep alumnae abreast of 
developments in their fields during the years of young motherhood. 
They could accept part-time students and offer extension courses for 
the housewife who could not attend classes regularly. They could 
advise her on reading programs, papers, or projects that could be 
done at home. They could also work out a system whereby projects 
done by their alumnae in education, mental health, sociology, 
political science in their own communities could be counted as 
equivalent credits toward a degree. Instead of collecting dimes, let 
women volunteers serve supervised professional apprenticeships and 
collect the credits that are recognized in lieu of pay for medical 
internes. Similarly, when a woman has taken courses at a number of 
different institutions, perhaps due to her husband’s geographical 


itinerary, and has earned her community credits from agency, 
hospital, library or laboratory, her college of origin, or some national 
center set up by several colleges, could give her the orals, the 
comprehensives, and the appropriate examinations for a degree. The 
concept of “continuing education” is already a reality for men in 
many fields. Why not for women? Not education for careers instead 
of motherhood, not education for temporary careers before 
motherhood, not education to make them “better wives and mothers,” 
but an education they will use as full members of society. 

“But how many American women really want to do more with 
their lives?” the cynic asks. A fantastic number of New Jersey 
housewives responded to an offer of intensive retraining in 
mathematics for former college women willing to commit themselves 
to becoming mathematics teachers. In January, 1962, a simple news 
story in the New York Times announced that Sarah Lawrence’s Esther 
Raushenbush had obtained a grant to help mature women finish their 
education or work for graduate degrees on a part-time basis that 
could be fitted in with their obligations as mothers. The response 
literally put the small Sarah Lawrence switchboard out of 
commission. Within twenty-four hours, Mrs. Raushenbush had taken 
over 100 telephone calls. “It was like bank night,” the operator said. 
“As if they had to get in there right away, or they might miss the 
chance.” Interviewing the women who applied for the program, Mrs. 
Raushenbush, like Virginia Senders at Minnesota, was convinced of 
the reality of their need. They were not “neurotically rejecting” their 
husbands and children; they did not need psychotherapy, but they did 
need more education—in a hurry—and in a form they could get 
without neglecting their husbands and families. 

Education and re-education of American women for a serious 
purpose cannot be effected by one or two far-sighted institutions; it 
must be accomplished on a much wider scale. And no one serves this 
end who repeats, even for expedience or tact, the cliches of the 
feminine mystique. It is quite wrong to say, as some of the leading 
women educators are saying today, that women must of course use 
their education, but not, heaven forbid, in careers that will compete 
with men.— When women take their education and their abilities 
seriously and put them to use, ultimately they have to compete with 
men. It is better for a woman to compete impersonally in society, as 
men do, than to compete for dominance in her own home with her 
husband, compete with her neighbors for empty status, and so smother 


her son that he cannot compete at all. Consider this recent news item 
about America’s latest occupational therapy for the pent-up feminine 
need to compete: 

It is a typical weekday in Dallas. Daddy is at work. Baby is 
having his morning nap. In an adjoining room, Brother (age 3) is 
riding a new rocking horse and Sis (5) is watching TV cartoons. 
And Mommy? Mommy is just a few feet away, crouching over 
the foul line on Lane 53, her hip twisted sharply to the left to 
steer the blue-white-marbled ball into the strike pocket between 
the one and three pins. Mommy is bowling. Whether in Dallas or 
Cleveland or Albuquerque or Spokane, energetic housewives 
have dropped dustcloth and vacuum and hauled the children off 
to the new alleys, where fulltime nurses stand ready to babysit 
in the fully equipped nurseries. 

Said the manager of Albuquerque’s Bowl-a-Drome: “Where 
else can a woman compete after she gets married? They need 
competition just like men do.... It sure beats going home to do 
the dishes!”— 


It is perhaps beside the point to remark that bowling alleys and 
supermarkets have nursery facilities, while schools and colleges and 
scientific laboratories and government offices do not. But it is very 
much to the point to say that if an able American woman does not use 
her human energy and ability in some meaningful pursuit (which 
necessarily means competition, for there is competition in every 
serious pursuit of our society), she will fritter away her energy in 
neurotic symptoms, or unproductive exercise, or destructive “love.” 

It also is time to stop giving lip service to the idea that there are 
no battles left to be fought for women in America, that women’s 
rights have already been won. It is ridiculous to tell girls to keep 
quiet when they enter a new field, or an old one, so the men will not 
notice they are there. In almost every professional field, in business 
and in the arts and sciences, women are still treated as second-class 
citizens. It would be a great service to tell girls who plan to work in 
society to expect this subtle, uncomfortable discrimination—tell them 
not to be quiet, and hope it will go away, but fight it. A girl should 
not expect special privileges because of her sex, but neither should 


she “adjust” to prejudice and discrimination. 

She must learn to compete then, not as a woman, but as a human 
being. Not until a great many women move out of the fringes into the 
mainstream will society itself provide the arrangements for their new 
life plan. But every girl who manages to stick it out through law 
school or medical school who finishes her M.A. or Ph.D. and goes on 
to use it, helps others move on. Every woman who fights the 
remaining barriers to full equality which are masked by the feminine 
mystique makes it easier for the next woman. The very existence of 
the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, under Eleanor 
Roosevelt’s leadership, creates a climate where it is possible to 
recognize and do something about discrimination against women, in 
terms not only of pay but of the subtle barriers to opportunity. Even in 
politics, women must make their contribution not as “housewives” 
but as citizens. It is, perhaps, a step in the right direction when a 
woman protests nuclear testing under the banner of “Women Strike 
for Peace.” But why does the professional illustrator who heads the 
movement say she is “just a housewife,” and her followers insist that 
once the testing stops, they will stay happily at home with their 
children? Even in the city strongholds of the big political party 
machines, women can—and are beginning to—change the insidious 
unwritten rules which let them do the political housework while the 
men make the decisions. - 

When enough women make life plans geared to their real abilities, 
and speak out for maternity leaves or even maternity sabbaticals, 
professionally run nurseries, and the other changes in the rules that 
may be necessary, they will not have to sacrifice the right to 
honorable competition and contribution anymore than they will have 
to sacrifice marriage and motherhood. It is wrong to keep spelling out 
unnecessary choices that make women unconsciously resist either 
commitment or motherhood ——and that hold back recognition of the 
needed social changes. It is not a question of women having their 
cake and eating it, too. A woman is handicapped by her sex, and 
handicaps society, either by slavishly copying the pattern of man’s 
advance in the professions, or by refusing to compete with man at all. 
But with the vision to make a new life plan of her own, she can fulfill 
a commitment to profession and politics, and to marriage and 
motherhood with equal seriousness. 

Women who have done this, in spite of the dire warnings of the 




feminine mystique, are in a sense “mutations,” the image of what the 
American woman can be. When they did not or could not work full 
time for a living, they spent part-time hours on work which truly 
interested them. Because time was of the essence, they often skipped 
the time-wasting, self-serving details of both housewifery and 
professional busywork. 

Whether they knew it or not, they were following a life plan. They 
had their babies before or after internship, between fellowships. If 
good full-time help was not available in the children’s early years, 
they gave up their jobs and took a part-time post that may not have 
paid handsomely, but kept them moving ahead in their profession. 
The teachers innovated in PTA, and substituted; the doctors took 
clinical or research jobs close to home; the editors and writers 
started free-lancing. Even if the money they made was not needed for 
groceries or household help (and usually it was), they earned tangible 
proof of their ability to contribute. They did not consider themselves 
“lucky” to be housewives; they competed in society. They knew that 
marriage and motherhood are an essential part of life, but not the 
whole of it. 

These “mutations” suffered—and surmounted—the “cultural 
discontinuity in role conditioning,” the “role crisis” and the identity 
crisis. They had problems, of course, tough ones—juggling their 
pregnancies, finding nurses and housekeepers, having to give up good 
assignments when their husbands were transferred. They also had to 
take a lot of hostility from other women—and many had to live with 
the active resentment of their husbands. And, because of the mystique, 
many suffered unnecessary pains of guilt. It took, and still takes, 
extraordinary strength of purpose for women to pursue their own life 
plans when society does not expect it of them. However, unlike the 
trapped housewives whose problems multiply with the years, these 
women solved their problems and moved on. They resisted the mass 
persuasions and manipulations, and did not give up their own, often 
painful, values for the comforts of conformity. They did not retreat 
into privatism, but met the challenges of the real world. And they 
know quite surely now who they are. 

They were doing, perhaps without seeing it clearly, what every 
man and woman must do now to keep up with the increasingly 
explosive pace of history, and find or keep individual identity in our 
mass society. The identity crisis in men and women cannot be solved 
by one generation for the next; in our rapidly changing society, it must 



be faced continually, solved only to be faced again in the span of a 
single lifetime. A life plan must be open to change, as new 
possibilities open, in society and in oneself. No woman in America 
today who starts her search for identity can be sure where it will take 
her. No woman starts that search today without struggle, conflict, and 
taking her courage in her hands. But the women I met, who were 
moving on that unknown road, did not regret the pains, the efforts, the 
risks. 

In the light of woman’s long battle for emancipation, the recent 
sexual counterrevolution in America has been perhaps a final crisis, 
a strange breath-holding interval before the larva breaks out of the 
shell into maturity—a moratorium during which many millions of 
women put themselves on ice and stopped growing. They say that one 
day science will be able to make the human body live longer by 
freezing its growth. American women lately have been living much 
longer than men—walking through their leftover lives like living 
dead women. Perhaps men may live longer in America when women 
carry more of the burden of the battle with the world, instead of being 
a burden themselves. I think their wasted energy will continue to be 
destructive to their husbands, to their children, and to themselves 
until it is used in their own battle with the world. But when women as 
well as men emerge from biological living to realize their human 
selves, those leftover halves of life may become their years of 
greatest fulfillment.— 

Then the split in the image will be healed, and daughters will not 
face that jumping-off point at twenty-one or forty-one. When their 
mothers’ fulfillment makes girls sure they want to be women, they 
will not have to “beat themselves down” to be feminine; they can 
stretch and stretch until their own efforts will tell them who they are. 
They will not need the regard of boy or man to feel alive. And when 
women do not need to live through their husbands and children, men 
will not fear the love and strength of women, nor need another’s 
weakness to prove their own masculinity. They can finally see each 
other as they are. And this may be the next step in human evolution. 

Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to 
become themselves? Who knows what women’s intelligence will 
contribute when it can be nourished without denying love? Who 
knows of the possibilities of love when men and women share not 
only children, home, and garden, not only the fulfillment of their 
biological roles, but the responsibilities and passions of the work 


that creates the human future and the full human knowledge of who 
they are? It has barely begun, the search of women for themselves. 
But the time is at hand when the voices of the feminine mystique can 
no longer drown out the inner voice that is driving women on to 
become complete. 



Epilogue 


When The Feminine Mystique was at the printer’s, and my last 
child was in school all day, I decided I would go back to school 
myself and get my Ph.D. Armed with my publisher’s announcement, a 
copy of my summa cum laude undergraduate degree and twenty- 
years-back graduate record, and the New World Foundation report of 
the educational project I had dreamed up and run in Rockland County, 
I went to see the head of the social psychology department at 
Columbia. He was very tolerant and kind, but surely, at forty-two, 
after all those undisciplined years as a housewife, I must understand 
that I wouldn’t be able to meet the rigors of full-time graduate study 
for a Ph.D. and the mastery of statistics that was required. “But I used 
statistics throughout the book,” I pointed out. He looked blank. “Well, 
my dear,” he said, “what do you want to bother your head getting a 
Ph.D. for, anyhow?” 

I began to get letters from other women who now saw through the 
feminine mystique, who wanted to stop doing their children’s 
homework and start doing their own; they were also being told they 
really weren’t capable of doing anything else now but making 
homemade strawberry jam or helping their children do fourth-grade 
arithmetic. It wasn’t enough just to take yourself seriously as a 
person. Society had to change, somehow, for women to make it as 
people. It wasn’t possible to live any longer as “just a housewife.” 
But what other way was there to live? 

I remember getting stuck at that point, even when I was writing 



The Feminine Mystique. I had to write a last chapter, giving a 
solution to “the problem that has no name,” suggesting new patterns, a 
way out of the conflicts, whereby women could use their abilities 
fully in society and find their own existential human identity, sharing 
its action, decisions, and challenges without at the same time 
renouncing home, children, love, their own sexuality. My mind went 
blank. You do have to say “no” to the old way before you can begin 
to find the new “yes” you need. Giving a name to the problem that 
had no name was the necessary first step. But it wasn’t enough. 

Personally, I couldn’t operate as a suburban housewife any 
longer, even if I had wanted to. For one thing, I became a leper in my 
own suburb. As long as I only wrote occasional articles most people 
never read, the fact that I wrote during the hours when the children 
were in school was no more a stigma than, for instance, solitary 
morning drinking. But now that I was acting like a real writer and 
even being interviewed on television, the sin was too public, it could 
not be condoned. Women in other suburbs were writing me letters as 
if I were Joan of Arc, but I practically had to flee my own crabgrass- 
overgrown yard to keep from being burned at the stake. Although we 
had been fairly popular, my husband and I were suddenly no longer 
invited to our neighbors’ dinner parties. My kids were kicked out of 
the car pool for art and dancing classes. The other mothers had a fit 
when I now called a cab when it was my turn, instead of driving the 
children myself. We had to move back to the city, where the kids 
could do their own thing without my chauffeuring and where I could 
be with them at home during some of the hours I now spent 
commuting. I couldn’t stand being a freak alone in the suburbs any 
longer. 

At first, that strange hostility my book—and later the movement— 
seemed to elicit from some women amazed and puzzled me. Even in 
the beginning, there wasn’t the hostility I had expected from men. 
Many men bought The Feminine Mystique for their wives and urged 
them to go back to school or to work. I realized soon enough that 
there were probably millions of women who had felt as I had, like a 
freak, absolutely alone, as a suburban housewife. But if you were 
afraid to face your real feelings about the husband and children you 
were presumably living for, then someone like me opening up the can 
of worms was a menace. 

I didn’t blame women for being scared. I was pretty scared 
myself. It isn’t really possible to make a new pattern of life all by 



yourself. I’ve always dreaded being alone more than anything else. 
The anger I had not dared to face in myself during all the years I tried 
to play the helpless little housewife with my husband—and feeling 
more helpless the longer I played it—was beginning to erupt now, 
more and more violently. For fear of being alone, I almost lost my 
own self-respect trying to hold on to a marriage that was based no 
longer on love but on dependent hate. It was easier for me to start the 
women’s movement which was needed to change society than to 
change my own personal life. 

It seemed time to start writing that second book, but I couldn’t 
find any new patterns in society beyond the feminine mystique. I 
could find a few individual women, knocking themselves out to meet 
Good Housekeeping standards, trying to raise Spockian children 
while working at a full-time job and feeling guilty about it. And 
conferences were being held about the availability of continuing 
education for women, because all those aging full-time housewife- 
mothers, whose babies were now in college, were beginning to be 
trouble—drinking, taking too many pills, committing suicide. Whole 
learned journals were devoted to the discussion of “women and their 
options”—the “stages” of women’s lives. Women, we were told, 
could go to school, work a bit, get married, stay with the children 
fifteen to twenty years, and then go back to school and work—no 
problem; no need for role conflicts. 

The women who were advancing this theory were among the 
exceptional few to reach top jobs because they somehow had not 
dropped out for fifteen or twenty years. And these same women were 
advising the women flocking back to their continuing-education 
programs that they couldn’t really expect to get real jobs or 
professional training after fifteen years at home; ceramics, or 
professional volunteer work—that was the realistic adjustment. 

Talk, that’s all it was, talk. In 1965, the long awaited report of the 
President’s Commission on the Status of Women detailed the 
discriminatory wages women were earning (half the average for 
men), and the declining ratio of women in professional and executive 
jobs. The Commission recommended that women be counseled to use 
their abilities in society, and suggested that child-care centers and 
other services be provided to enable women to combine motherhood 
and work. But Margaret Mead, in her introduction to the report, said, 
in effect, If women are all going to want to make big decisions and 
discoveries, who is going to stay home and bandage the child’s knee 



or listen to the husband’s troubles? (No matter that, with her 
husbands’ help and even before her child’s knees were in school all 
day, she herself was making big anthropological discoveries and 
decisions. Perhaps women who have made it as “exceptional” 
women don’t really identify with other women. For them, there are 
three classes of people: men, other women, and themselves; their 
very status as exceptional women depends on keeping other women 
quiet, and not rocking the boat.) 

The President’s Commission report was duly buried in 
bureaucratic file drawers. That summer of 1965, I got a third of the 
way through the book I wanted to write about going beyond the 
feminine mystique; by then I knew that there weren’t any new 
patterns, only new problems that women weren’t going to be able to 
solve unless society changed. And all the talk, and the reports, and 
the Commission, and the continuing-education programs were only 
examples of tokenism—maybe even an attempt to block a real 
movement on the part of women themselves to change society. 

It seemed to me that something more than talk had to happen. “The 
only thing that’s changed so far is our own consciousness,” I wrote, 
closing that second book, which I never finished, because the next 
sentence read, “What we need is a political movement, a social 
movement like that of the blacks.” I had to take action. On the plane 
to Washington, pondering what to do, I saw a student reading a book, 
The First Step to Revolution Is Consciousness , and it was like an 
omen. 

I went to Washington because a law had been passed, Title VTI of 
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, banning sex discrimination in 
employment along with race discrimination. The sex discrimination 
part had been tacked on as a joke and a delaying maneuver by a 
Southern congressman, Howard Smith of Virginia. At the first press 
conferences after the law went into effect, the administrator in charge 
of enforcing it joked about the ban on sex discrimination. “It will 
give men equal opportunity to be Playboy bunnies,” he said. 

In Washington I found a seething underground of women in the 
government, the press, and the labor unions who felt powerless to 
stop the sabotage of this law that was supposed to break through the 
sex discrimination that pervaded every industry and profession, every 
factory, school, and office. Some of these women felt that I, as a now 
known writer, could get the public’s ear. 

One day, a cool young woman lawyer, who worked for the agency 



that was not enforcing the law against sex discrimination, carefully 
closed the door of her office and said to me with tears in her eyes, “I 
never meant to be so concerned about women. I like men. But I’m 
getting an ulcer, the way women are being betrayed. We may never 
have another chance like this law again. Betty, you have to start an 
NAACP for women. You are the only one free enough to do it.” 

I wasn’t an organization woman. I never even belonged to the 
League of Women \foters. However, there was a meeting of state 
commissioners on the status of women in Washington in June. I 
thought that, among the women there from the various states, we 
would get the nucleus of an organization that could at least call a 
press conference and raise the alarm among women throughout the 
country. 

Pauli Murray, an eminent black lawyer, came to that meeting, and 
Dorothy Haener and Caroline Davis from the UAW, and Kay 
Clarenbach, head of the Governor’s Commission in Wisconsin, and 
Katherine Conroy of the Communications Workers of America, and 
Aileen Hernandez, then a member of the Equal Employment 
Opportunities Commission. I asked them to come to my hotel room 
one night. Most didn’t think women needed a movement like the 
blacks, but everyone was mad at the sabotage of Title VTI. The 
consensus was that the conference could surely take respectable 
action to insist that the law be enforced. 

I went to bed relieved that probably a movement wouldn’t have to 
be organized. At six the next morning, I got a call from one of the top 
token women in the Johnson administration, urging me not to rock the 
boat. At eight the phone rang again; this time it was one of the 
reluctant sisters of the night before, angry now, really angry. “We’ve 
been told that this conference doesn’t have the power to take any 
action at all, or even the right to offer a resolution. So we’ve got a 
table for us all to eat together at lunch, and we’ll start the 
organization.” At the luncheon we each chipped in a dollar. I wrote 
the word “NOW” on a paper napkin; our group should be called the 
National Organization for Women, I said, “because men should be 
part of it.” Then I wrote down the first sentence of the NOW 
statement of purpose, committing ourselves to “take action to bring 
women into full participation in the mainstream of American society 
now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof, in 
truly equal partnership with men.” 

The changes necessary to bring about that equality were, and still 



are, very revolutionary indeed. They involve a sex-role revolution 
for men and women which will restructure all our institutions: child 
rearing, education, marriage, the family, the architecture of the home, 
the practice of medicine, work, politics, the economy, religion, 
psychological theory, human sexuality, morality, and the very 
evolution of the race. 

I now see the women’s movement for equality as simply the 
necessary first stage of a much larger sex-role revolution. I never did 
see it in terms of class or race: women, as an oppressed class, 
fighting to overthrow or take power away from men as a class, the 
oppressors. I knew the movement had to include men as equal 
members, though women would have to take the lead in the first 
stage. 

There is only one way for women to reach full human potential— 
by participating in the mainstream of society, by exercising their own 
voice in all the decisions shaping that society. For women to have 
full identity and freedom, they must have economic independence. 
Breaking through the barriers that had kept them from the jobs and 
professions rewarded by society was the first step, but it wasn’t 
sufficient. It would be necessary to change the rules of the game to 
restructure professions, marriage, the family, the home. The manner 
in which offices and hospitals are structured, along the rigid, 
separate, unequal, unbridgeable lines of secretary/executive, 
nurse/doctor, embodies and perpetuates the feminine mystique. But 
the economic part would never be complete unless a dollar value 
was somehow put on the work done by women in the home, at least in 
terms of social security, pensions, retirement pay. And housework 
and child rearing would have to be more equally shared by husband, 
wife, and society. 

Equality and human dignity are not possible for women if they are 
not able to earn. When the young radical kids came into the 
movement, they said it was “boring” or “reformist” or “capitalist co¬ 
option” to place so much emphasis on jobs and education. But very 
few women can afford to ignore the elementary economic facts of 
life. Only economic independence can free a woman to marry for 
love, not for status or financial support, or to leave a loveless, 
intolerable, humiliating marriage, or to eat, dress, rest, and move if 
she plans not to marry. But the importance of work for women goes 
beyond economics. How else can women participate in the action 
and decisions of an advanced industrial society unless they have the 



training and opportunity and skills that come from participating in it? 

Women also had to confront their sexual nature, not deny or 
ignore it as earlier feminist had done. Society had to be restructured 
so that women, who happen to be the people who give birth, could 
make a human, responsible choice whether or not—and when—to 
have children, and not be barred thereby from participating in society 
in their own right. This meant the right to birth control and safe 
abortion; the right to maternity leave and child-care centers if women 
did not want to retreat completely from adult society during the 
childbearing years; and the equivalent of a GI bill for retraining if 
women chose to stay home with the children. For it seemed to me that 
most women would still choose to have children, though not so many 
if child rearing was no longer their only road to status and economic 
support—a vicarious participation in life. 

I couldn’t define “liberation” for women in terms that denied the 
sexual and human reality of our need to love, and even sometimes to 
depend upon, a man. What had to be changed was the obsolete 
feminine and masculine sex roles that dehumanized sex, making it 
almost impossible for women and men to make love, not war. How 
could we ever really know or love each other as long as we played 
those roles that kept us from knowing or being ourselves? Weren’t 
men as well as women still locked in lonely isolation, alienation, no 
matter how many sexual acrobatics they put their bodies through? 
Weren’t men dying too young, suppressing fears and tears and their 
own tenderness? It seemed to me that men weren’t really the enemy— 
they were fellow victims, suffering from an outmoded masculine 
mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there 
were no bears to kill. 

In these past years of action, I have seen myself and other women 
becoming both stronger and more gentle, taking ourselves more 
seriously, yet beginning to really have fun as we stopped playing the 
old roles. We discovered we could trust each other. I love the 
women with whom I took the adventurous and joyous actions of these 
years. No one realized how pitifully few we were in the beginning, 
how little money we had, how little experience. 

What gave us the strength and the nerve to do what we did, in the 
name of American women, of women of the world? It was, of course, 
because we were doing it for ourselves. It was not charity for poor 
others; we, the middle-class women who started this, were all poor, 
in a sense that goes beyond dollars. It was hard even for housewives 



whose husbands weren’t poor to get money to fly to board meetings 
of NOW. It was hard for women who worked to get time off from 
their jobs, or take precious weekend time from their families. I have 
never worked so hard for money, gone so many hours with so little 
sleep or time off to eat or even go to the toilet, as in these first years 
of the women’s movement. 

I was subpoenaed on Christmas Eve, 1966, to testify before a 
judge in Foley Square, because the airlines were outraged at our 
insistence that they were guilty of sex discrimination by forcing 
stewardesses to resign at age thirty or upon their marriage. (Why, I 
had wondered, are they going to such lengths? Surely they don’t think 
men ride the airlines because stewardesses are nubile. And then I 
realized how much money the airlines saved by firing those pretty 
stewardesses before they had time to accumulate pay increases, 
vacation time, and pension rights. And how I love it now when 
stewardesses hug me on an airplane and tell me they are not only 
married and over thirty, but can even have children and keep flying!) 

I felt a certain urgency of history, that we would be failing the 
generation coming up if we evaded the question of abortion now. I 
also felt we had to get the Equal Rights Amendment added to the 
Constitution despite the claim of union leaders that it would end 
“protective” laws for women. We had to take the torch of equality 
from the lonely, bitter old women who had been fighting all alone for 
the amendment, which had been bottled up in Congress for nearly 
fifty years since women had chained themselves to the White House 
fence to get the vote. 

On our first picket line at the White House fence (“Rights Not 
Roses”) on Mother’s Day in 1967, we threw away chains of aprons, 
flowers, and mock typewriters. We dumped bundles of newspapers 
onto the floor of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in 
protest against its refusal to enforce the Civil Rights law against sex- 
segregated “Help Wanted: Male” ads (for the good jobs) and “Help 
Wanted: Female” ads (for gal Friday-type jobs). This was supposed 
to be just as illegal now as ads reading “Help Wanted: White” and 
“Help Wanted: Colored.” We announced we were going to sue the 
federal government for not enforcing the law equally on behalf of 
women (and then called members of our underground in the Justice 
Department to see if one could do that)—and we did. 

I gave lectures in Southern finishing schools and commencement 
addresses at out-of-the-way colleges of home economics—as well as 



at Yale, UCLA, and Harvard—to pay my way in organizing NOW 
chapters (we never did have money for an organizing staff). Our only 
real office in those years was my apartment. It wasn’t possible to 
keep up with the mail. But when women like Wilma Heide from 
Pittsburgh, or Karen De Crow in Syracuse, Eliza Paschall in Atlanta, 
Jacqui Ceballos—so many others—were so determined to have 
NOW chapters that they called long distance when we didn’t answer 
their letters, the only thing to do was to have them become local 
NOW organizers. 

I remember so many way stations: Going to lunch at the for-men- 
only Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel with fifty NOW women and 
demanding to be served...Testifying before the Senate against the 
nomination to the Supreme Court of a sexist judge named Carswell 
who refused to hear a case of a woman who was fired because she 
had preschool children... Seeing the first sign of a woman’s 
underground in the student movement, when I was asked to lead a rap 
session at the National Student Congress in College Park, Maryland, 
in 1968...After a resolution for the liberation of women from the 
mimeograph machines was laughed down at the SDS convention, 
hearing the young radical women telling me they had to have a 
separate women’s-lib group—because if they really spoke out at 
SDS meetings, they might not get married...Helping Sheila Tobias 
plan the Cornell intersession on women in 1968, which started the 
first women’s-studies programs (how many universities have them 
now!)...Persuading the NOW board that we should hold a Congress 
to Unite Women with the young radicals despite differences in 
ideology and style... So many way stations. 

I admired the flair of the young radicals when they got off the 
rhetoric of sex/class warfare and conducted actions like picketing the 
Miss America beauty contest in Atlantic City. But the media began to 
publicize, in more and more sensational terms, the more exhibitionist, 
down-with-men, down-with-marriage, down-with-childbearing 
rhetoric and actions. Those who preached the man-hating sex/class 
warfare threatened to take over the New York NOW and the national 
NOW and drive out the women who wanted equality but who also 
wanted to keep on loving their husbands and children. Kate Millett’s 
Sexual Politics was hailed as the ideology of sex/class warfare by 
those who claimed to be the radicals of the women’s movement. 
After the man-hating faction broke up the second Congress to Unite 
Women with hate talk, and even violence, I heard a young radical 



say, “If I were an agent of the CIA and wanted to disrupt this 
movement, that’s just what I would do.” 

By 1970, it was beginning to be clear that the women’s movement 
was more than a temporary fad, it was the fastest-growing movement 
for basic social and political change of the decade. The black 
movement had been taken over by extremists; the student movement 
was immobilized by its fetish for leaderless structure and by the 
growing alienation from extremist hate rhetoric. Someone was trying 
to take over our movement, too—or to stop it, immobilize it, splinter 
it—under the guise of radical rhetoric and a similar fetish against 
leadership and structure. “It’s fruitless to speculate whether they are 
CIA agents, or sick, or on a private power trip, or just plain stupid,” 
a black leader warned me. “If they continually disrupt, you simply 
have to fight them.” 

It seemed to me the women’s movement had to get out of sexual 
politics. I thought it was a joke at first—those strangely humorless 
papers about clitoral orgasms that would liberate women from sexual 
dependence on a man’s penis, and the “consciousness-raising” talk 
that women should insist now on being on top in bed with men. Then 
I realized, as Simone de Beauvoir once wrote, that these women 
were in part acting out sexually their rebellion and resentment at 
being “underneath” in society generally, being dependent on men for 
their personal definition. But their resentment was being manipulated 
into an orgy of sex hatred that would vitiate the power they now had 
to change the conditions they resented. I’m not sure what motivates 
those who viciously promulgate, or manipulate, man hate in the 
women’s movement. Some of the disrupters seemed to come from 
extreme left groups, some seemed to be using the women’s movement 
to proselytize lesbianism, others seemed to be honestly articulating 
the legitimate and too-long-buried rage of women into a rhetoric of 
sex/class warfare, which I consider to be based on a false analogy 
with obsolete or irrelevant ideologies of class warfare or race 
separatism. The man-haters were given publicity far out of 
proportion to their numbers in the movement because of the media’s 
hunger for sensationalism. Many women in the movement go through 
a temporary period of great hostility to men when they first become 
conscious of their situation; when they start acting to change their 
situation, they outgrow what I call pseudo-radical infantilism. But 
that man-hating rhetoric increasingly disturbs most women in the 
movement, in addition to keeping many women out of the movement. 



On the plane to Chicago, preparing to bow out as president of 
NOW, feeling powerless to fight the man-haters openly and refusing 
to front for them, I suddenly knew what had to be done. A woman 
from Florida had written to remind me that August 26, 1970, was the 
fiftieth anniversary of the constitutional amendment giving women the 
vote. We needed to call a national action—a strike of women to call 
attention to the unfinished business of equality: equal opportunity for 
jobs and education, the right to abortion and child-care centers, the 
right to our own share of political power. It would unite women 
again in serious action—women who had never been near a 
“women’s lib” group. (NOW, the largest such group, and the only one 
with a national structure, had only 3,000 members in thirty cities in 
1970.) I remember that, to transmit this new vision to the NOW 
convention in Chicago, warning of the dangers of aborting the 
women’s movement, I spoke for nearly two hours and got a standing 
ovation. The grass-roots strength of NOW went into organizing the 
August 26 strike. In New York, women filled the temporary 
headquarters volunteering to do anything and everything; they hardly 
went home at night. 

Mayor Lindsay wouldn’t close Fifth Avenue for our march, and I 
remember starting that march with the hooves of policemen’s horses 
trying to keep us confined to the sidewalk. I remember looking back, 
jumping up to see over marchers’ heads. I never saw so many 
women; they stretched back for so many blocks you couldn’t see the 
end. I locked one arm with my beloved Judge Dorothy Kenyon (who, 
at eighty-two, insisted on walking with me instead of riding in the car 
we had provided for her), and the other arm with a young woman on 
the other side. I said to the others in the front ranks, “Lock arms, 
sidewalk to sidewalk!” We overflowed till we filled the whole of 
Fifth Avenue. There were so many of us they couldn’t stop us; they 
didn’t even try. It was, as they say, the first great nationwide action of 
women (hundreds of men also marched with us) since women won 
the vote itself fifty years before. Reporters who had joked about the 
“bra-burners” wrote that they had never seen such beautiful women 
as the proud, joyous marchers who joined together that day. For all 
women were beautiful on that day. 

On August 26, it suddenly became both political and glamorous to 
be a feminist. At first, politics had seemed to be something altogether 
separate from what we were doing in the women’s movement. The 
regular politicians—right, left, center; Republican, Democrat, 



splinter—certainly weren’t interested in women. In 1968, I had 
testified in vain at the conventions of both political parties, trying to 
get a single word about women in either the Republican or 
Democratic platform. When Eugene McCarthy, the chief sponsor of 
the Equal Rights Amendment, announced that he was going to run for 
president to end the Vietnam war, I began to connect my own politics, 
at least, to the women’s drive for equality. I called Bella Abzug and 
asked how I could work for McCarthy. But not even the other women 
working for him thought women’s issues were relevant politically, 
and many NOW members were critical of me for campaigning openly 
for McCarthy. 

At the 1970 NOW convention in Chicago, I said we had a human 
responsibility as women to end the Vietnam war. Neither men nor 
women should be drafted to fight an obscene, immoral war like the 
one in Vietnam, but we had to take equal responsibility for ending it. 
Two years earlier, in 1968, standing outside the Conrad Hilton Hotel 
in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention, I had watched 
helmeted troopers clubbing down the long-haired young, my own son 
among them. I began to see that these young men, saying they didn’t 
have to napalm all the children in Vetnam and Cambodia to prove 
they were men, were defying the masculine mystique as we had 
defied the feminine one. Those young men, and their elders like them, 
were the other half of what we were doing. 

And during that summer of 1970, I started trying to organize a 
women’s political caucus; later, it stuck together enough to get Bella 
Abzug elected to Congress. She and Gloria Steinem joined me as 
conveners of our August 26 Women’s Strike for Equality march. So 
many women who had been afraid before joined our march that day; 
we, and the world, suddenly realized the possibilities of women’s 
political power. This power was first tested in the summer of 1972 in 
Miami when, for the first time, women played a major role in the 
political conventions. Although inexperienced caucus leaders may 
have been too easily co-opted by Nixon or McGovern, or infiltrated 
by Watergate agents, they brought change to the political arena. They 
won commitments from both parties on child-care, preschool, and 
after-school programs. And Shirley Chisholm stayed in the 
Democratic race right to the end. By 1976, I predict, even the 
Republicans will have a woman running seriously for vice-president, 
if not for president. 

And so most of the agenda of Stage 1 of the sex-role revolution— 



which is how I now see the women’s movement for equality—have 
been accomplished, or are in the process of being resolved. The 
Equal Rights Amendment was approved by Congress with hardly a 
murmur in either house after we organized the National Women’s 
Political Caucus. The amendment’s main opponent, Emanuel Celler, 
has been retired from Congress by one of the many new young women 
who, these days, are running for office instead of looking up Zip 
Codes. The Supreme Court has ruled that no state can deny a woman 
her right to choose childbirth or abortion. Over 1,000 lawsuits have 
been filed forcing universities and corporations to take affirmative 
action to end sex discrimination and the other conditions that keep 
women from getting top jobs. The American Telephone and 
Telegraph Company has been ordered to pay $15 million in 
reparations to women who didn’t even apply for jobs better than 
telephone operator before because such jobs weren’t open to women. 
Every professional association, newspaper office, television station, 
church, company, hospital, and school in almost every city has a 
women’s caucus or a group taking action on the concrete conditions 
that keep women down. 

Lately, I’ve been asked to lead consciousness-raising sessions for 
the men who plan the training of guidance counselors in New York 
and Minnesota, priests in Missouri, the Air Force Academy in 
Colorado, and even investment bankers. (I’ve also organized the First 
Women’s Bank & Trust Company to help women get control of their 
own money and use their economic power.) The State Department 
has said that women can’t be fired from the Foreign Service just 
because they are married and that secretaries can’t be told to go for 
coffee. Women are beginning to change the very practice of medicine 
by establishing self-help clinics that enable women to take active 
responsibility for their own bodies. Psychoanalytic conferences ask 
me, and other movement women, to help them change their definition 
of feminine and masculine. Women are being ordained as ministers 
and rabbis and deacons, though the Pope says they still can’t say 
Mass. And the nuns and priests whose ecumenical rebellion is on the 
front edge of the sex-role revolution are asking, “Is God He?” 

The women’s movement is no longer just an American possibility. 
I’ve been asked to help organize groups in Italy, Brazil, Mexico, 
Colombia, Sweden, France, Israel, Japan, India, and even in 
Czechoslovakia and other Socialist countries. I hope that by next year 
we’ll have our first world conference of feminists, perhaps in 



Sweden. 

The United States Census Bureau reports a drastic decline in the 
birth rate, which I credit as much to women’s new aspirations as to 
The Pill. The women’s movement is strong enough now to bring out 
into the open real differences in ideology: I think my view of the sex- 
role revolution will emerge as the belief of those in the mainstream, 
and the man-hating fringe will evaporate, having represented a 
temporary phase, or even a planned diversion. It would be 
unrealistic, of course, not to expect forces threatened by the women’s 
movement to try to organize or provoke a backlash—as they are 
doing now in many states to prevent ratification of the Equal Rights 
Amendment. For example, women were given a week off by 
employers in Ohio, bused over the state line, and put up in motels in 
an attempt to pressure the Kentucky legislature to block the Equal 
Rights Amendment. But I remember that the liquor companies spent 
millions of dollars to prevent ratification of women’s right to vote in 
Tennessee fifty years ago. And today who is financing the campaign 
to stop the final act of the women’s movement for equality? Not a 
conspiracy of men to keep women down; rather, it is a conspiracy of 
those whose power, or profit, rests on the manipulation of the fears 
and impotent rage of passive women. Women—the last and largest 
group of people in this nation to demand control of their own destiny 
—will change the very nature of political power in this country. 

In the decade since the publication of The Feminine Mystique, the 
women’s movement has changed my whole life, too, no less 
powerfully or joyfully than the lives of other women who stop to tell 
me about themselves. I couldn’t keep living my schizophrenic life: 
leading other women out of the wilderness while holding on to a 
marriage that destroyed my self-respect. I finally found the courage to 
get a divorce in May, 1969. I am less alone now than I ever was 
holding on to the false security of my marriage. I think the next great 
issue for the women’s movement is basic reform of marriage and 
divorce. 

My life still keeps changing, with Emily off to Radcliffe this fall, 
Daniel getting his Ph.D. at Princeton, and Jonathan exploring new 
roads of his own. I’ve finished my first stint as a visiting professor of 
sociology at Temple University, and I’ve written my own uncensored 
column for McCall’s. I’ve moved high into an airy, magic New York 
tower, with open sky and river and bridges to the future all around. 
I’ve started a weekend commune of grownups for whom marriage 



hasn’t worked—an extended family of choice, whose members are 
now moving into new kinds of marriages. 

The more I’ve become myself—and the more strength, support, 
and love I’ve somehow managed to take from, and give to, other 
women in the movement—the more joyous and real I feel loving a 
man. I’ve seen great relief in women this year as I’ve spelled out my 
personal truth: that the assumption of your own identity, equality, and 
even political power does not mean you stop needing to love, and be 
loved by, a man, or that you stop caring for your kids. I would have 
lost my own feeling for the women’s movement if I had not been able, 
finally, to admit tenderness. 

One mystical footnote: I used to be terribly afraid of flying. After 
I wrote The Feminine Mystique , I suddenly stopped being afraid; 
now I fly on jets across the ocean and on one-engine air taxis in the 
hills of West Virginia. I guess that, existentially, once you start really 
living your life, and doing your work, and loving, you are not afraid 
to die. Sometimes, when I realize how much flying I do, I think 
there’s a possibility that I will die in an airplane crash. But not for 
quite a while, I hope, because the pieces of my own life as woman 
with man are coming together in a new pattern of human sex and 
human politics. I now can write that new book. 

I think the energy locked up in those obsolete masculine and 
feminine roles is the social equivalent of the physical energy locked 
up in the realm of E = MC 2 —the force that unleashed the holocaust of 
Hiroshima. I believe the locked-up sexual energies have helped to 
fuel, more than anyone realizes, the terrible violence erupting in the 
nation and the world during these past ten years. If I am right, the sex- 
role revolution will liberate these energies from the service of death 
and will make it really possible for men and women to “make love, 
not war.” 



Notes 


Metamorphosis: TWO GENERATIONS 
LATER 

YNew York Times , February 11, 1994. U.S. 
Census Bureau data compiled by F. Levy 
(MIT) and R. Mumane (Harvard). 

A “Women: The New Providers,” Whirlpool 
Foundation Study, by Families and Work 
Institute, May, 1995. 

T “Employment and Earnings,” Bureau of 
Labor Statistics, January, 1996. 

A U.S. Census Bureau data from current 
Population Reports, 1994. 

5. National Committee on Pay Equity, 
compiled U.S. Census Bureau data from 
CUrrent Population Reports, 1996. 

A “The wage Gap: Women’s and Men’s 
earnings,” Institute for Women’s Policy 
Research, 1996. 

T Washington Post, September 27, 1994. 


Data released from “Corporate Downsizing, 
Job Elimination, and Job Creation,” AMA 
Survey, 1994. Also The Downsizing of 
America: The New York Times Special 
Report. New York: Random House, 1996. 

K “Women’s Voices: Solutions for a New 
Economy,” Center for Policy Alternatives, 
1992. 

SL “Contraceptive Practice and Trends in 
Coital Frequency,” Princeton University 
Office of Population Research, Family 
Planning Perspectives, Vol. 12, No. 5, 
October, 1980. 

10. Starting Right: How America Neglects Its 
Youngest Children and What We We Can 
Do About It, Sheila B. Kamerman and 
Alfred J. Kahn. New York: Oxford 
University Press, 1995. 

Chapter 1. THE PROBLEM THAT HAS NO 
NAME 

L See the Seventy-fifth Anniversary Issue of 
Good Housekeeping, May, 1960, “The Gift 
of Self,” a symposium by Margaret Mead, 
Jessamyn West, et al. 

T Lee Rainwater, Richard P. Coleman, and 
Gerald Handel, Workingman’s Wife, New 



York, 1959. 

U Betty Friedan, “If One Generation Can 
Ever Tell Another,” Smith Alumnae 
Quarterly , Northampton, Mass., Winter, 
1961.1 first became aware of “the problem 
that has no name” and its possible 
relationship to what I finally called “the 
feminine mystique” in 1957, when I 
prepared an intensive questionnaire and 
conducted a survey of my own Smith 
College classmates fifteen years after 
graduation. This questionnaire was later 
used by alumnae classes of Radcliffe and 
other women’s colleges with similar results. 

U Jhan and June Robbins, “Why Young 
Mothers Feel Trapped,” Redbook , 
September, 1960. 

Y Marian Freda Poverman, “Alumnae on 
Parade,” Barnard Alumnae Magazine , July, 
1957. 

Chapter 2. THE HAPPY HOUSEWIFE 
HEROINE 

L Betty Friedan, “Women Are People Too!” 
Good Housekeeping , September, 1960. The 
letters received from women all over the 
United States in response to this article 


were of such emotional intensity that I was 
convinced that “the problem that has no 
name” is by no means confined to the 
graduates of the women’s Ivy League 
colleges. 

2* In the 1960’s, an occasional heroine who 
was not a “happy housewife” began to 
appear in the women’s magazines. An editor 
of McCall's explained it: “Sometimes we 
run an offbeat story for pure entertainment 
value.” One such novelette, which was 
written to order by Noel Clad for Good 
Housekeeping (January, 1960), is called 
“Men Against Women.” The heroine—a 
happy career woman—nearly loses child as 
well as husband. 

Chapter 3. THE CRISIS IN WOMAN’S 
IDENTITY 

L Erik H. Erikson, Young Man Luther, A 
Study in Psychoanalysis and History , New 
York, 1958, pp. 15 ff. See also Erikson, 
Childhood and Society , New York, 1950, 
and Erikson, “The Problem of Ego 
Identity,” Journal of the American 
Psychoanalytical Association, Vol. 4, 1956, 
pp. 56—121. 




Chapter 4. THE PASSIONATE JOURNEY 

L See Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: 
The Woman’s Rights Movement in the 
United States , Cambridge, Mass., 1959. 

This definitive history of the woman’s rights 
movement in the United States, published in 
1959 at the height of the era of the feminine 
mystique, did not receive the attention it 
deserves, from either the intelligent reader 
or the scholar. In my opinion, it should be 
required reading for every girl admitted to a 
U.S. college. One reason the mystique 
prevails is that very few women under the 
age of forty know the facts of the woman’s 
rights movement. I am much indebted to 
Miss Flexner for many factual clues I might 
otherwise have missed in my attempt to get 
at the truth behind the feminine mystique 
and its monstrous image of the feminists. 

2* See Sidney Ditzion, Marriage, Morals and 
Sex in America—A History of Ideas , New 
York, 1953. This extensive bibliographical 
essay by the librarian of New York 
University documents the continuous 
interrelationship between movements for 
social and sexual reform in America, and, 
specifically, between man’s movement for 


greater self-realization and sexual 
fulfillment and the woman’s rights 
movement. The speeches and tracts 
assembled reveal that the movement to 
emancipate women was often seen by the 
men as well as the women who led it in 
terms of “creating an equitable balance of 
power between the sexes” for “a more 
satisfying expression of sexuality for both 
sexes.” 

Y Ibid., p. 107. 

A Yuri Suhl, Ernestine L. Rose and the 
Battle for Human Rights, New York, 1959, 
p. 158. A vivid account of the battle for a 
married woman’s right to her own property 
and earnings. 

Y Flexner, op. cit ., p. 30. 

A Elinor Rice Hays, Morning Star, A 
Biography of Lucy Stone , New York, 1961, 
p. 83. 

E Flexner, op. cit., p. 64. 

fL Hays, op. cit., p. 136. 

Elbid., p. 285. 

10. Flexner, op. cit., p. 46. 

11. Ibid., p. 73. 

12. Hays, op. cit., p. 221. 

13. Flexner, op. cit., p. 117. 

14. Ibid., p. 235. 







15. Ibid., p. 299. 

16. Ibid., p. 173. 

17. Ida Alexis Ross Wylie, “The Little 
Woman ” Harper’s, November, 1945. 

Chapter 5. THE SEXUAL SOLIPSISM OF 
SIGMUND FREUD 

L Clara Thompson, Psychoanalysis: 
Evolution and Development , New York, 
1950, pp. 131 ff: 

Freud not only emphasized the 
biological more than the cultural, but he 
also developed a cultural theory of his own 
based on his biological theory. There were 
two obstacles in the way of understanding 
the importance of the cultural phenomena he 
saw and recorded. He was too deeply 
involved in developing his biological 
theories to give much thought to other 
aspects of the data he collected. Thus he 
was interested chiefly in applying to human 
society his theory of instincts. Starting with 
the assumption of a death instinct, for 
example, he then developed an explanation 
of the cultural phenomena he observed in 
terms of the death instinct. Since he did not 
have the perspective to be gained from 





knowledge of comparative cultures, he 
could not evaluate cultural processes as 
such”. Much which Freud believed to be 
biological has been shown by modem 
research to be a reaction to a certain type of 
culture and not characteristic of universal 
human nature. 

Z Richard La Piere, The Freudian Ethic, 

New York, 1959, p. 62. 

L Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of 
Sigmund Freud , New York, 1953, Vol. I, p. 
384. 

4+ Ibid., Vol. II (1955), p. 432. 

FIbid ., Vol. I, pp. 7—14, 294; Vol. II, p. 

483. 

6, Bmno Bettelheim, Love Is Not Enough: 
The Treatment of Emotionally Disturbed 
Children , Glencoe, HI., 1950, pp. 7 ff. 

T Ernest L. Freud, Letters of Sigmund Freud, 
New York, 1960, Letter 10, p. 27; Letter 26, 
p. 71; Letter 65, p. 145. 

SLIbid., Letter 74, p. 60; Letter 76, pp. 161 ff. 

SL Jones, op. cit ., Vol. I, pp. 176 ff. 

10. Ibid.. Vol. II, p. 422. 

IL Ibid., Vol. I, p. 271: 

His descriptions of sexual activities are 
so matter-of-fact that many readers have 
found them almost dry and totally lacking in 





warmth. From all I know of him, I should 
say that he displayed less than the average 
personal interest in what is often an 
absorbing topic. There was never any gusto 
or even savor in mentioning a sexual topic”. 
He always gave the impression of being an 
unusually chaste person” the word 
“puritanical” would not be out of place” and 
all we know of his early development 
confirms this conception. 

12. Ibid.. Vol. I, p. 102. 

13. Ibid., Vol. I, pp. 110 ff. 

14^ Ibid., Vol. I,p. 124. 

15. Ibid., Vol. I, p. 127. 

16. Ibid.. Vol. I, p. 138. 

IF Ibid., Vol. I 9 p. 151. 

18. Helen Walker Puner, Freud, His Life and 
His Mind, New York, 1947, p. 152. 

19. Jones, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 121. 

20. Ibid.. Vol. I, pp. 301 ff. During the years 
Freud was germinating his sexual theory, 
before his own heroic self-analysis freed 
him from a passionate dependence on a 
series of men, his emotions were focused on 
a flamboyant nose-and-throat doctor named 
Fliess. This is one coincidence of history 
that was quite fateful for women. For Fliess 
had proposed, and obtained Freud’s lifelong 











allegiance to, a fantastic “scientific theory” 
which reduced all phenomena of life and 
death to “bisexuality,” expressed in 
mathematical terms through a periodic table 
based on the number 28, the female 
menstrual cycle. Freud looked forward to 
meetings with Fliess “as for the satisfying of 
hunger and thirst.” He wrote him:” No one 
can replace the intercourse with a friend that 
a particular, perhaps feminine side of me, 
demands.” Even after his own self-analysis, 
Freud still expected to die on the day 
predicted by Fliess” periodic table, in which 
everything could be figured out in terms of 
the female number 28, or the male 23, which 
was derived from the end of one female 
menstrual period to the beginning of the 
next. 

21. Ibid .. Vol. I, p. 320. 

22. Sigmund Freud, “Degradation in Erotic 
Life,” in The Collected Papers of Sigmund 
Freud , Vol. IV. 

23. Thompson, op. cit ., p. 133. 

24. Sigmund Freud, “The Psychology of 
Women,” in New Introductory Lectures on 
Psychoanalysis , tr. by W. J. H. Sprott, New 
York, 1933, pp. 170 ff. 

25. Ibid., p. 182. 






26. Ibid .. p. 184. 

27. Thompson, op. cit., pp. 12 ff: 

The war of 1914—18 further focussed 
attention on ego drives.... Another idea 
came into analysis around this period.. .and 
that was that aggression as well as sex might 
be an important repressed impulse.... The 
puzzling problem was how to include it in 
the theory of instincts.... Eventually Freud 
solved this by his second instinct theory. 
Aggression found its place as part of the 
death instinct. It is interesting that normal 
self-assertion, i.e., the impulse to master, 
control or come to self-fulfilling terms with 
the environment, was not especially 
emphasized by Freud. 

28. Sigmund Freud, “Anxiety and Instinctual 
Fife,” in New Introductory Lectures on 
Psychoanalysis , p. 149. 

29. Marynia Famham and Ferdinand 
Fundberg, Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, 
New York and Fondon, 1947, pp. 142 ff. 

30. Ernest Jones, op. cit., Vol. n, p. 446. 

31. Helene Deutsch, The Psychology of 
Woman—A Psychoanalytical 
Interpretation , New York, 1944, Vol. I, pp. 
224 ff. 

32. Ibid., Vol. I, pp. 251 ff. 









33. Sigmund Freud, “The Anatomy of the 
Mental Personality,” in New Introductory 
Lectures on Psychoanalysis , p. 96. 

Chapter 6. THE FUNCTIONAL FREEZE, 
THE FEMININE PROTEST, AND 
MARGARET MEAD 

E Henry A. Bowman, Marriage for Moderns, 
New York, 1942, p. 21. 

2* Ibid., pp. 22 ff. 

T Ibid., pp. 62 ff. 

4* Ibid., pp. 74—76. 

Y Ibid., pp. 66 ff. 

C Talcott Parsons, “Age and Sex in the 
Social Structure of the United States,” in 
Essays in Sociological Theory, Glencoe, 

Ill., 1949, pp. 223 ff. 

T Talcott Parsons, “An Analytical Approach 
to the Theory of Social Stratification,” op. 
cit., pp. 174 ff. 

SL Mirra Komarovsky, Women in the Modern 
World, Their Education and Their 
Dilemmas, Boston, 1953, pp. 52—61. 

SL Ibid., p. 66. 

10. Ibid., pp. 72—74. 

11. Mirra Komarovsky, “Functional Analysis 
of Sex Roles,” American Sociological 








Review , August, 1950. See also “Cultural 
Contradictions and Sex Roles,” American 
Journal of Sociology, November, 1946. 

12. Kingsley Davis, “The Myth of Functional 
Analysis as a Special Method in Sociology 
and Anthropology,” American Sociological 
Review , Vol. 24, No. 6, December, 1959, 
pp. 757—772. Davis points out that 
functionalism became more or less identical 
with sociology itself. There is provocative 
evidence that the very study of sociology, in 
recent years, has persuaded college women 
to limit themselves to their “functional” 
traditional sexual role. A report on “The 
Status of Women in Professional 
Sociology” (Sylvia Fleis Fava, American 
Sociological Review , Vol. 25, No. 2, April, 
1960) shows that while most of the students 
in sociology undergraduate classes are 
women, from 1949 to 1958 there was a 
sharp decline in both the number and 
proportion of degrees in sociology awarded 
to women. (4,143 B.A.’s in 1949 down to a 
low of 3,200 in 1955, 3,606 in 1958). And 
while one-half to two-thirds of the 
undergraduate degrees in sociology were 
awarded to women, women received only 25 
to 43 per cent of the master’s degrees, and 



only 8 to 19 per cent of the Ph.D.’s. While 
the number of women earning graduate 
degrees in all fields has declined sharply 
during the era of the feminine mystique, the 
field of sociology showed, in comparison to 
other fields, an unusually high “mortality” 
rate. 

13. Margaret Mead, Sex and Temperament in 
Three Primitive Societies , New York, 1935, 
pp. 279 ff. 

14. Margaret Mead, From the South Seas , 
New York, 1939, p. 321. 

15. Margaret Mead, Male and Female , New 
York, 1955, pp. 16—18. 

16. Ibid .. p. 26. 

17. Ibid., footnotes, pp. 289 ff: 

I did not begin to work seriously with the 
zones of the body until I went to the 
Arapesh in 1931. While I was generally 
familiar with Freud’s basic work on the 
subject, I had not seen how it might be 
applied in the field until I read Geza 
Roheim’s first field report, “Psychoanalysis 
of Primitive Culture Types” “I then sent 
home for abstracts of K. Abraham’s work. 
After I became acquainted with Erik 
Homburger Erikson’s systematic handling 
of these ideas, they became an integral part 








of my theoretical equipment. 

18. Ibid., pp. 50 f. 

19. Ibid., pp. 72 ff. 

20. Ibid., pp. 84 ff. 

2E Ibid., p. 85. 

22. Ibid., pp. 125 ff. 

23. Ibid., pp. 135 ff. 

24. Ibid., pp. 274 ff. 

25. Ibid., pp. 278 ff. 

26. Ibid., pp. 276—285. 

27. Margaret Mead, Introduction to From the 
South Seas, New York, 1939, p. xiii. “It was 
no use permitting children to develop values 
different from those of their society...” 

28. Marie Jahoda and Joan Havel, 
“Psychological Problems of Women in 
Different Social Roles—A Case History of 
Problem Formulation in Research,” 
Educational Record, Vol. 36, 1955, pp. 325 
—333. 

Chapter 7. THE SEX-DIRECTED 
EDUCATORS 

L Mabel Newcomer, A Century of Higher 
Education for Women, New York, 1959, pp. 
45 ff. The proportion of women among 
college students in the U.S. increased from 















21 per cent in 1870 to 47 per cent in 1920; 
it had declined to 35. 2 per cent in 1958. 
Five women’s colleges had closed; 21 had 
become coeducational; 2 had become junior 
colleges. In 1956, 3 out of 5 women in the 
coeducational colleges were taking 
secretarial, nursing, home economics, or 
education courses. Less than 1 out of 10 
doctorates were granted to women, 
compared to 1 in 6 in 1920, 13 per cent in 
1940. Not since before World War I have 
the percentages of American women 
receiving professional degrees been as 
consistently low as in this period. The 
extent of the retrogression of American 
women can also be measured in terms of 
their failure to develop to their own 
potential. According to Womanpower , of all 
the young women capable of doing college 
work, only one out of four goes to college, 
compared to one out of two men; only one 
out of 300 women capable of earning a 
Ph.D. actually does so, compared to one out 
of 30 men. If the present situation 
continues, American women may soon rank 
among the most “backward” women in the 
world. The U.S. is probably the only nation 
where the proportion of women gaining 



higher education has decreased in the past 
20 years; it has steadily increased in 
Sweden, Britain, and France, as well as the 
emerging nations of Asia and the communist 
countries. By the 1950’s, a larger proportion 
of French women were obtaining higher 
education than American women; the 
proportion of French women in the 
professions had more than doubled in fifty 
years. The proportion of French women in 
the medical profession alone is five times 
that of American women; 70 per cent of the 
doctors in the Soviet Union are women, 
compared to 5 per cent in America. See Alva 
Myrdal and Viola Klein, Women’s Two 
Roles—Home and Work , London, 1956, pp. 
33—64. 

A Mervin B. Freedman, “The Passage through 
College,” in Personality Development 
During the College Years , ed. by Nevitt 
Sanford, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. XII, 
No. 4, 1956, pp. 15 ff. 

T John Bushnel, “Student Culture at Vassar,” 
in The American College , ed. by Nevitt 
Sanford, New York and London, 1962, pp. 
509 ff. 

A Lynn White, Educating Our Daughters , 
New York, 1950, pp. 18—48. 




5, Ibid., p. 76. 

(L Ibid., pp. 77 ff. 

TIbid., p. 79. 

R See Dael Wolfle, America’s Resources of 
Specialized Talent, New York, 1954. 

9. Cited in an address by Judge Mary H. 
Donlon in proceedings of “Conference on 
the Present Status and Prospective Trends 
of Research on the Education of Women,” 

1957, American Council on Education, 
Washington, D.C. 

10. See “The Bright Girl: A Major Source of 
Untapped Talent,” Guidance Newsletter , 
Science Research Associates Inc., Chicago, 
Ill., May, 1959. 

11. See Dael Wolfle, op. cit. 

12. John Summerskill, “Dropouts from 
College,” in The American College , p. 631. 

13. Joseph M. Jones, “Does Overpopulation 
Mean Poverty?” Center for International 
Economic Growth, Washington, 1962. See 
also United Nations Demographic 
Yearbook , New York, 1960, pp. 580 ff. By 

1958, in the United States, more girls were 
marrying from 15 to 19 years of age than 
from any other age group. In all of the other 
advanced nations, and many of the emerging 
underdeveloped nations, most girls married 






from 20 to 24 or after 25. The U.S. pattern 
of teenage marriage could only be found in 
countries like Paraguay, Venezuela, 
Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Egypt, Iraq 
and the Fiji Islands. 

14. Nevitt Sanford, “Higher Education as a 
Social Problem,” in The American College , 
p. 23. 

15. Elizabeth Douvan and Carol Kaye, 
“Motivational Factors in College Entrance,” 
in The American College , pp. 202—206. 

16. Ibid .. pp. 208 ff. 

17. Esther Lloyd-Jones, “Women Today and 
Their Education,” Teacher's College 
Record , Vol. 57, No. 1, October, 1955; and 
No. 7, April, 1956. See also Opal David, 

The Education of Women ’ signs for the 
Future , American Council on Education, 
Washington, D.C., 1957. 

18. Mary Ann Guitar, “College Marriage 
Courses—Fun or Fraud?” Mademoiselle , 
February, 1961. 

19. Helen Deutsch, op. cit ., Vol. 1, p. 290. 

20. Mirra Komarovsky, op. cit., p. 70. 
Research studies indicate that 40 per cent of 
college girls “play dumb” with men. Since 
the ones who do not include those not 
excessively overburdened with intelligence, 









the great majority of American girls who are 
gifted with high intelligence evidently leam 
to hide it. 

21. Jean Macfarlane and Lester Sontag, 
Research reported to the Commission on the 
Education of Women, Washington, D.C., 
1954, (mimeo ms.). 

22. Harold Webster,’ some Quantitative 
Results, “in Personality Development 
During the College Years , ed. by Nevitt 
Sanford, Journal of Social Issues , 1956, 

Vol. 12, No. 4, p. 36. 

23. Nevitt Sanford, Personality Development 
During the College Years , Journal of Social 
Issues , 1956, Vol. 12, No. 4. 

24. Mervin B. Freedman,’ studies of College 
Alumni,” in The American College , p. 878. 

25. Lynn White, op. cit ., p. 117. 

26. Ibid., pp. 119 ff. 

27. Max Lemer, America As a Civilization , 
New York, 1957, pp. 608—611: 

The crux of it lies neither in the 
biological nor economic disabilities of 
women but in their sense of being caught 
between a man’s world in which they have 
no real will to achieve and a world of their 
own in which they find it hard to be 
fulfilled.... When Walt Whitman exhorted 










women “to give up toys and fictions and 
launch forth, as men do, amid real, 
independent, stormy life,” he was thinking 
—as were many of his contemporaries—of 
the wrong kind of equalitarianism.... If she 
is to discover her identity, she must start by 
basing her belief in herself on her 
womanliness rather than on the movement 
for feminism. Margaret Mead has pointed 
out that the biological life cycle of the 
woman has certain well-marked phases from 
menarche through the birth of her children 
to her menopause; that in these stages of her 
life cycle, as in her basic bodily rhythms, 
she can feel secure in her womanhood and 
does not have to assert her potency as the 
male does. Similarly, while the multiple 
roles that she must play in life are 
bewildering, she can fulfill them without 
distraction if she knows that her central role 
is that of a woman.... Her central function, 
however, remains that of creating a life style 
for herself and for the home in which she is 
life creator and life sustainer. 

28. See Philip E. Jacob, Changing Values in 
College , New York, 1957. 

29. Margaret Mead, “New Look at Early 
Marriages,” interview in U.S. News and 






World Report , June 6, 1960. 

Chapter 8. THE MISTAKEN CHOICE 

E See the United Nations Demographic 
Yearbook , New York, 1960, pp. 99—118 
and pp. 476—490; p. 580. The annual rate 
of population increase in the U.S. in the 
years 1955—59 was far higher than that of 
other Western nations, and higher than that 
of India, Japan, Burma, and Pakistan. In 
fact, the increase for North America (1.8) 
exceeded the world rate (1.7). The rate for 
Europe was .8; for the USSR 1.7; Asia 1.8; 
Africa 1.9; and South America 2.3. The 
increase in the underdeveloped nations was, 
of course, largely due to medical advances 
and the drop in death rate; in America it was 
almost completely due to increased birth 
rate, earlier marriage, and larger families. 
For the birth rate continued to rise in the 
U.S. from 1950 to 1959, while it was falling 
in countries like France, Norway, Sweden, 
the USSR, India and Japan. The U.S. was 
the only so-called “advanced” nation, and 
one of the few nations in the world where, 
in 1958, more girls married at ages 15 to 19 
than at any other age. Even the other 





countries which showed a rise in the birth 
rate—Germany, Canada, the United 
Kingdom, Chile, New Zealand, Peru—did 
not show this phenomenon of teenage 
marriage. 

2* See “The Woman with Brains (continued),” 
New York Times Magazine , January 17, 
1960, for the outraged letters in response to 
an article by Marya Mannes, “Female 
Intelligence—Who Wants It?” New York 
Times Magazine , January 3, 1960. 

T See National Manpower Council, 
Womanpower, New York, 1957. In 1940, 
more than half of all employed women in 
the U.S. were under 25, and one-fifth were 
over 45. In the 1950’s peak participation in 
paid employment occurs among young 
women of 18 and 19—and women over 45, 
the great majority of whom hold jobs for 
which little training is required. The new 
preponderance of older married women in 
the working force is partly due to the fact 
that so few women in their twenties and 
thirties now work, in the U.S. Two out of 
five of all employed women are now over 
45, most of them wives and mothers, 
working part time at unskilled work. Those 
reports of millions of American wives 





working outside the home are misleading in 
more ways than one: of all employed 
women, only one-third hold full-time jobs, 
one-third work full time only part of the 
year—for instance, extra saleswomen in the 
department stores at Christmas—and one- 
third work part time, part of the year. The 
women in the professions are, for the most 
part, that dwindling minority of single 
women; the older untrained wives and 
mothers, like the untrained 18-year-olds, are 
concentrated at the lower end of the skill 
ladder and the pay scales, in factory, service, 
sales and office work. Considering the 
growth in the population, and the increasing 
professionalization of work in America, the 
startling phenomenon is not the much- 
advertised, relatively insignificant increase 
in the numbers of American women who 
now work outside the home, but the fact 
that two out of three adult American women 
do not work outside the home, and the 
increasing millions of young women who 
are not skilled or educated for work in any 
profession. See also Theodore Caplow, The 
Sociology of Work, 1954, and Alva Myrdal 
and Viola Klein, Women’s Two Roles — 
Home and Work , London, 1956. 



U Edward Strecker, Their Mother’s Sons , 
Philadelphia and New York, 1946, pp. 52— 
59. 

fL Ibid., pp. 31 ff. 

C Famham and Lundberg, Modern Woman: 
The Lost Sex , p. 271. See also Lynn White, 
Educating Our Daughters , p. 90. 

Preliminary results of the careful study 
of American sex habits being conducted at 
the University of Indiana by Dr. A. C. 
Kinsey indicate that there is an inverse 
correlation between education and the 
ability of a woman to achieve habitual 
orgastic experience in marriage. According 
to the present evidence, admittedly tentative, 
nearly 65 per cent of the marital intercourse 
had by women with college backgrounds is 
had without orgasm for them, as compared 
to about 15 per cent for married women who 
have gone no further than grade school. 

T Alfred C. Kinsey, et al ., Staff of the 
Institute for Sex Research, Indiana 
University, Sexual Behavior in the Human 
Female , Philadelphia and London, 1953, 
pp. 378 ff. 

K Lois Meek Stolz, “Effects of Maternal 
Employment on Children: Evidence from 
Research,” Child Development , Vol. 31, 



No. 4, 1960, pp. 749—782. 

SL H. F. Southard, “Mothers” Dilemma: To 
Work or Not?” New York Times Magazine, 
July 17, 1960. 

10. Stolz, op. cit. See also Myrdal and Klein, 
op. cit., pp. 125 ff. 

11. Benjamin Spock, “Russian Children 
Don’t Whine, Squabble or Break Things— 
Why?” Ladies ” Home Journal , October, 
1960. 

12. David Levy, Maternal Overprotection, 
New York, 1943. 

13. Arnold W. Green, “The Middle-Class 
Male Child and Neurosis,” American 
Sociological Review , Vol. II, No. 1, 1946. 

Chapter 9. THE SEXUAL SELL 

L The studies upon which this chapter is 
based were done by the Staff of the Institute 
for Motivational Research, directed by Dr. 
Ernest Dichter. They were made available to 
me through the courtesy of Dr. Dichter and 
his colleagues, and are on file at the 
Institute, in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. 

N Harrison Kinney, Has Anybody Seen My 
Father?,, New York, 1960. 


Chapter 10. HOUSEWIFERY EXPANDS 








TO FILL THE TIME AVAILABLE 


L Jhan and June Robbins, “Why Young 
Mothers Feel Trapped,” Redbook , 
September, 1960. 

A Carola Woerishoffer Graduate Department 
of Social Economy and Social Research, 
“Women During the War and After,” Bryn 
Mawr College, 1945. 

L Theodore Caplow points out in The 
Sociology of Work, p. 234, that with the 
rapidly expanding economy since 1900, and 
the extremely rapid urbanization of the 
United States, the increase in the 
employment of women from 20.4 per cent in 
1900 to 28.5 per cent in 1950 was 
exceedingly modest. Recent studies of time 
spent by American housewives on 
housework, which confirm my description 
of the Parkinson effect, are summarized by 
Jean Warren, “Time: Resource or Utility,” 
Journal of Home Economics , Vol. 49, 
January, 1957, pp. 21 ff Alva Myrdal and 
Viola Klein in Women’s Two Roles—Home 
and Work cite a French study which showed 
that working mothers reduced time spent on 
housework by 30 hours a week, compared to 
a full-time housewife. The work week of a 



working mother with three children broke 
down to 35.2 hours on the job, 48.3 hours 
on housework; the full-time housewife 
spent 77.7 hours on housework. The mother 
with a full-time job or profession, as well as 
the housekeeping and children, worked only 
one hour a day longer than the full-time 
housewife. 

4, Robert Wood, Suburbia, Its People and 
Their Politics, Boston, 1959. 

5* See “Papa’s Taking Over the PTA Mama 
Started,” New York Herald Tribune , 
February 10, 1962. At the 1962 national 
convention of Parent-Teacher Associations, 
it was revealed that 32 per cent of the 
46,457 PTA presidents are now men. In 
certain states the percentage of male PTA 
heads is even higher, including New York 
(33 per cent), Connecticut (45 per cent) and 
Delaware (80 per cent). 

A Nanette E. Scofield,’ some Changing Roles 
of Women in Suburbia: A Social 
Anthropological Case Study,” transactions 
of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 
22, No. 6, April, 1960. 

T Mervin B. Freedman,’ studies of College 
Alumni,” in The American College , pp. 872 
ff. 


JL Murray T. Pringle, “Women Are Wretched 
Housekeepers,” Science Digest, June, 1960. 

9* See Time , April 20, 1959. 

10. Famham and Lundberg, Modern Women: 
The Lost Sex , p. 369. 

11. Edith M. Stem, “Women Are Household 
Slaves,” American Mercury, January, 1949. 

12. Russell Lynes, “The New Servant Class,” 
in A Surfeit of Honey , New York, 1957, pp. 
49—64. 

Chapter 11. THE SEX-SEEKERS 

L Several social historians have commented 
on America’s sexual preoccupation from the 
male point of view. “America has come to 
stress sex as much as any civilization since 
the Roman,” says Max Lemer ( America as 
A Civilization , p. 678). David Riesman in 
The Lonely Crowd (New Haven, 1950, p. 
172 ff.) calls sex “the Last Frontier.” 

More than before, as job-mindedness 
declines, sex permeates the daytime as well 
as the playtime consciousness. It is viewed 
as a consumption good not only by the old 
leisure classes but by the modem leisure 
masses.... 

One reason for the change is that women 






are no longer objects for the acquisitive 
consumer but are peer-groupers 
themselves.... Today, millions of women, 
freed by technology from many household 
tasks, given by technology many aids to 
romance, have become pioneers with men on 
the frontiers of sex. As they become 
knowing consumers, the anxiety of men lest 
they fail to satisfy the women also grows.... 
It is mainly the clinicians who have noted 
that the men are often less eager now than 
their wives as sexual “consumers.” The late 
Dr. Abraham Stone, whom I interviewed 
shortly before his death, said that the wives 
complain more and more of sexually 
“inadequate” husbands. Dr. Karl Menninger 
reports that for every wife who complains of 
her husband’s excessive sexuality, a dozen 
wives complain that their husbands are 
apathetic or impotent. These “problems” are 
cited in the mass media as additional 
evidence that American women are losing 
their “femininity”—and thus provide new 
ammunition for the mystique. See John 
Kord Lagemann, “The Male Sex,” Redbook , 
December, 1956. 

2* Albert Ellis, The Folklore of Sex , New 
York, 1961, p. 123. 



Y See the amusing parody, “The Pious 
Pomographers,” by Ray Russell, in The 
Permanent Playboy, New York, 1959. 

A A. C. Spectorsky, The Exurbanites , New 
York, 1955, p. 223. 

5_, Nathan Ackerman, The Psychodynamics of 
Family Life, New York, 1958, pp. 112— 
127. 

A Evan Hunter, Strangers When We Meet, 
New York, 1958, pp. 231—235. 

T Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the 
Human Female, pp. 353 ff., p. 426. 

K Doris Menzer-Benaron M.D., et al., 
“Patterns of Emotional Recovery from 
Hysterectomy,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 
XIX, No. 5, September, 1957, pp. 378— 
388. 

SL The fact that 75 per cent to 85 per cent of 
young mothers in America today feel 
negative emotions—resentment, grief, 
disappointment, outright rejection—when 
they become pregnant for the first time has 
been established in many studies. In fact, 
the perpetrators of the feminine mystique 
report findings to reassure young mothers 
that they are only “normal” in feeling this 
strange rejection of pregnancy—and that the 
only real problem is their “guilt” over 







feeling it. Thus Redbook magazine, in “How 
Women Really Feel about Pregnancy” 
(November, 1958), reports that the Harvard 
School of Public Health found 80 to 85 per 
cent of “normal women reject the pregnancy 
when they become pregnant” Long Island 
College Clinic found that less than a fourth 
of women are “happy” about their 
pregnancy; a New Haven study finds only 
17 of 100 women “pleased” about having a 
baby. Comments the voice of editorial 
authority: 

The real danger that arises when a 
pregnancy is unwelcome and filled with 
troubled feelings is that a woman may 
become guilty and panic-stricken because 
she believes her reactions are unnatural or 
abnormal. Both marital and mother-child 
relations can be damaged as a result.... 
Sometimes a mental-health specialist is 
needed to allay guilt feelings.... Nor is there 
any time when a normal woman does not 
have feelings of depression and doubt when 
she learns that she is pregnant. 

Such articles never mention the various 
studies which indicate that women in other 
countries, both more and less advanced than 
the United States, and even American 



“career” women, are less likely to 
experience this emotional rejection of 
pregnancy. Depression at pregnancy may be 
“normal” for the housewife-mother in the 
era of the feminine mystique, but it is not 
normal to motherhood. As Ruth Benedict 
said, it is not biological necessity, but our 
culture which creates the discomforts, 
physical and psychological, of the female 
cycle. See her Continuities and 
Discontinuities in Cultural Conditioning. 

10. See William J. Goode, After Divorce , 
Glencoe, Ill., 1956. 

11. A. C. Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in 
the Human Male , Philadelphia and London, 
1948, p. 259, pp. 585—588. 

12. The male contempt for the American 
woman, as she has molded herself according 
to the feminine mystique, is depressingly 
explicit in the July, 1962 issue of Esquire , 
“The American Woman, A New Point of 
View.” See especially “The Word to 
Women—-No’” by Robert Alan Aurthur, p. 
32. The sex-lessness of the American female 
sex-seekers is eulogized by Malcolm 
Muggeridge (“Bedding Down in the 
Colonies,” p. 84): “How they mortify the 
flesh in order to make it appetizing! Their 





beauty is a vast industry, their enduring 
allure a discipline which nuns or athletes 
might find excessive. With too much sex to 
be sensual, and too ravishing to ravish, age 
cannot wither them nor custom stale their 
infinite monotony.” 

13. Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the 
Human Male , p. 631. 

14. See Donald Webster Cory, The 
Homosexual in America , New York, 1960, 
preface to second edition, pp. xxii ff. Also 
Albert Ellis, op. cit ., pp. 186—190. Also 
Seward Hiltner,’ stability and Change in 
American Sexual Patterns,” in Sexual 
Behavior in American Society , Jerome 
Himelhoch and Sylvia Fleis Fava, eds., New 
York, 1955, p. 321. 

15. Sigmund Freud, Three Contributions to 
the Theory of Sex , New York, 1948, p. 10. 

16. Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the 
Human Male , pp. 610 ff. See also Donald 
Webster Cory, op. cit., pp. 97 ff. 

17. Birth out of wedlock increased 194 per 
cent from 1956 to 1962; venereal disease 
among young people increased 132 per cent. 
{Time, March 16, 1962). 

18. Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the 
Human Male, pp. 348 ff., 427—433. 










19. Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the 
Human Male , pp. 293, 378, 382. 

20. Clara Thompson, “Changing Concepts of 
Homosexuality in Psychoanalysis” in A 
Study of Interpersonal Relations, New 
Contributions to Psychiatry , Patrick 
Mullahy, ed., New York, 1949, pp. 218 ff. 

21. Erich Fromm, “Sex and Character: the 
Kinsey Report Viewed from the Standpoint 
of Psychoanalysis,” in Sexual Behavior in 
American Society , p. 307. 

22. Carl Binger, “The Pressures on College 
Girls Today,” Atlantic Monthly, February, 
1961. 

23. Sallie Bingham, “Winter Term,” 
Mademoiselle , July, 1958. 

Chapter 12. PROGRESSIVE 
DEHUMANIZATION: THE COMFORTABLE 
CONCENTRATION CAMP 

L Marjorie K. McCorquodale, “What They 
Will Die for in Houston,” Harper’s, 
October, 1961. 

2* See David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd; 
also Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom , 
New York and Toronto, 1941, pp. 185— 
206. Also Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and 








Society , p. 239. 

Y David Riesman, introduction to Edgar 
Friedenberg’s The Vanishing Adolescent, 
Boston, 1959. 

4, Harold Taylor, “Freedom and Authority on 
the Campus,” in The American College , pp. 
780 ff. 

Y David Riesman, introduction to Edgar 
Friedenberg’s The Vanishing Adolescent. 

A See Eugene Kinkead, In Every War but 
One , New York, 1959. There has been an 
attempt in recent years to discredit or soft- 
pedal these findings. But a taped record of a 
talk given before the American Psychiatric 
Association in 1958 by Dr. William Mayer, 
who had been on one of the Army teams of 
psychiatrists and intelligence officers who 
interviewed the returning prisoners in 1953 
and analyzed the data, caused many 
pediatricians and child specialists to ask, in 
the words of Dr. Spock: “Are unusually 
permissive, indulgent parents more 
numerous today—and are they weakening 
the character of our children” (Benjamin 
Spock, “Are We Bringing Up Our Children 
Too “Soft” for the Stem Realities They 
Must Face?” Ladies ” Home Journal , 
September, 1960.) However unpleasantly 



injurious to American pride, there must be 
some explanation for the collapse of the 
American GI prisoners in Korea, as it 
differed not only from the behavior of 
American soldiers in previous wars, but 
from the behavior of soldiers of other 
nations in Korea. No American soldier 
managed to escape from the enemy prison 
camps, as they had in every other war. The 
shocking 38 per cent death rate was not 
explainable, even according to military 
authorities, on the basis of the climate, 
food, or inadequate medical facilities in the 
camps, nor was it caused by brutality or 
torture. “Give-up-itis” is how one doctor 
described the disease the Americans died 
from; they simply spent the days curled up 
under blankets, cutting down their diet to 
water alone, until they were dead, usually 
within three weeks. This seemed to be an 
American phenomenon. Turkish prisoners, 
who were also part of the UN force in 
Korea, lost no men by disease or starvation; 
they stuck together, obeyed their officers, 
adhered to health regulations, cooperated in 
the care of their sick, and refused to inform 
on one another. 

T Edgar Friedenberg, The Vanishing 


Adolescent , pp. 212 ff. 

K Andras Angyal, M.D., “Evasion of 
Growth,” American Journal of Psychiatry , 
Vol. 110, No. 5, November, 1953, pp. 358 
—361. See also Erich Fromm, Escape from 
Freedom , pp. 138—206. 

SL See Richard E. Gordon and Katherine K. 
Gordon, “Social Factors in the Prediction 
and Treatment of Emotional Disorders of 
Pregnancy,” American Journal of Obstetrics 
and Gynecology , 1959, 77:5, pp. 1074- 
1083; also Richard E. Gordon and 
Katherine K. Gordon, “Psychiatric Problems 
of a Rapidly Growing Suburb,” American 
Medical Association Archives of Neurology 
and Psychiatry , 1958, Vol. 79; 
“Psychosomatic Problems of a Rapidly 
Growing Suburb,” Journal of the American 
Medical Association, 1959, 170:15; and 
“Social Psychiatry of a Mobile Suburb,” 
International Journal of Social Psychiatry , 
1960, 6:1, 2, pp. 89—99. Some of these 
findings were popularized in the composite 
case histories of The Split Level Trap , 
written by the Gordons in collaboration 
with Max Gunther (New York, 1960). 

10. Richard E. Gordon,’ sociodynamics and 
Psychotherapy,” A.M.A. Archives of 





Neurology and Psychiatry , April, 1959, 
Vol. 81, pp. 486—503. 

11. Adelaide M. Johnson and S. A. Szurels, 
“The Genesis of Antisocial Acting Out in 
Children and Adults,” Psychoanalytic 
Quarterly , 1952,21:323—343. 

12. Ibid. 

13. Beata Rank, “Adaptation of the 
Psychoanalytical Technique for the 
Treatment of Young Children with Atypical 
Development,” American Journal of 
Orthopsychiatry , XIX, 1, January, 1949. 

14. Ibid. 

15. Ibid. 

16. Beata Rank, Marian C. Putnam, and 
Gregory Rochlin, M.D., “The Significance 
of the “Emotional Climate” in Early 
Feeding Difficulties,” Psychosomatic 
Medicine , X, 5, October, 1948. 

17. Richard E. Gordon and Katherine K. 
Gordon, “Social Psychiatry of a Mobile 
Suburb,” op. cit ., pp. 89—100. 

18. Ibid. 

19. Oscar Stembach,’ sex Without Love and 
Marriage Without Responsibility,” an 
address presented at the 38th Annual 
Conference of The Child Study Association 
of America, March 12, 1962, New York 













City (mimeo ms.). 

20. Bruno Bettelheim, The Informed Heart- 
Autonomy in a Mass Age, Glencoe, Ill., 
1960. 

ILIbid., pp. 162—169. 

22. Ibid., p. 231. 

23. Ibid., pp. 233 ff. 

24. Ibid., p. 265. 

Chapter 13. THE FORFEITED SELF 

L Rollo May, “The Origins and Significance 
of the Existential Movement in 
Psychology,” in Existence, A New 
Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology, 
Rollo May, Ernest Angel and Henri F. 
Ellenberger, eds., New York, 1958, pp. 30 
ff. (See also Erich Fromm, Escape from 
Freedom , pp. 269 ff; A. H. Maslow, 
Motivation and Personality , New York, 
1954; David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd.) 

2, Rollo May, “Contributions of Existential 
Psychotherapy,” in Existence, A New 
Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology, 
p. 87. 

T Ibid., p. 52. 

4^ Ibid., p. 53. 

5^ Ibid., pp. 59 ff. 









C See Kurt Goldstein, The Organism, A 
Holistic Approach to Biology Derived 
From Pathological Data on Man , New 
York and Cincinnati, 1939; also Abstract 
and Concrete Behavior , Evanston, Ill., 

1950; Case of Idiot Savant (with Martin 
Scheerer), Evanston, 1945; Human Nature 
in the Light of Psychopathology , 

Cambridge, 1947; After-Effects of Brain 
Injuries in War , New York, 1942. 

T Eugene Minkowski, “Findings in a Case of 
Schizophrenic Depression,” in Existence, A 
New Dimension in Psychiatry and 
Psychology , pp. 132 ff. 

fL O. Hobart Mowrer, “Time as a Determinant 
in Integrative Learning,” in Learning 
Theory and Personality Dynamics , New 
York, 1950. 

SL Eugene Minkowski, op. cit ., pp. 133—138: 

We think and act and desire beyond that 
death which, even so, we could not escape. 
The very existence of such phenomena as 
the desire to do something for future 
generations clearly indicates our attitude in 
this regard. In our patient, it was this 
propulsion toward the future which seemed 
to be totally lacking.... In this personal 
impetus, there is an element of expansion; 



we go beyond the limits of our own ego and 
leave a personal imprint on the world about 
us, creating works which sever themselves 
from us to live their own lives. This 
accompanies a specific, positive feeling 
which we call contentment—that pleasure 
which accompanies every finished action or 
firm decision. As a feeling, it is unique As a 
feeling, it is unique. Our entire individual 
evolution consists in trying to surpass that 
which has already been done. When our 
mental life dims, the future closes in front 
of us unique.... 

10. Rollo May, “Contributions of Existential 
Psychotherapy,” pp. 31 ff. In Nietzsche’s 
philosophy, human individuality and dignity 
are “given or assigned to us as a task which 
we ourselves must solve” in Tillich’s 
philosophy, if you do not have the “courage 
to be,” you lose your own being; in Sartre’s, 
you are your choices. 

11. A. H. Maslow, Motivation and 
Personality , p. 83. 

12. A. H. Maslow,’ some Basic Propositions 
of Holistic-Dynamic Psychology,” an 
unpublished paper, Brandeis University. 

13. Ibid. 

14. A. H. Maslow, “Dominance, Personality 








and Social Behavior in Women,” Journal of 
Social Psychology , 1939, Vol. 10, pp. 3— 
39; and “Self Esteem (Dominance-Feeling) 
and Sexuality in Women,” Journal of Social 
Psychology , 1942, Vol. 16, pp. 259—294. 

15. A. H. Maslow, “Dominance, Personality 
and Social Behavior in Women,” op. cit ., 
pp. 3—11. 

16. Ibid., pp. 13 ff. 

17. Ibid., p. 180. 

18. A. H. Maslow,’ self-Esteem (Dominance- 
Feeling) and Sexuality in Women, “p. 288. 
Maslow points out, however, that women 
with “ego insecurity” pretended a “self¬ 
esteem—they did not actually have. Such 
women had to “dominate,” in the ordinary 
sense, in their sexual relations, to 
compensate for their “ego insecurity” thus, 
they were either castrative or masochistic. 

As I have pointed out, such women must 
have been very common in a society which 
gives women little chance for true self¬ 
esteem; this was undoubtedly the basis of 
the man-eating myth, and of Freud’s 
equation of femininity with castrative penis 
envy and/or masochistic passivity. 

19. A. H. Maslow, Motivation and 
Personality , pp. 200 ff. 











20. Ibid., pp. 211 ff. 

21. Ibid., p. 214. 

22. Ibid., pp. 242 ff. 

23. Ibid., pp. 257 ff. Maslow found that his 
self-actualizing people “have in unusual 
measure the rare ability to be pleased rather 
than threatened by the partner’s triumphs.... 
A most impressive example of this respect is 
the ungrudging pride of such a man in his 
wife’s achievements even where they 
outshine his.” (Ibid., p. 252). 

24. Ibid., p. 245. 

25. Ibid., p. 255. 

26. A. C. Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in 
the Human Female, pp. 356 ff; Table 97, p. 
397; Table 104, p. 403. 

Decade of Birth vs. Percentage of Marital 
Coitus Leading to Orgasm 


In First yr. of Marriage, per cent of females 


% of Marital 

Coitus with Orgasm 

Before 

1900 

Decade of Birth 

1900- 1910- 

1909 1919 

1920- 

1929 

None 

33 

27 

23 

22 

1-29 

9 

13 

12 

8 

30-59 

10 

22 

15 

12 

60-89 

11 

11 

12 

15 

90-100 

37 

37 

38 

43 

Number of cases 

331 

589 

834 

484 












Decade of Birch 


% of Marital 

Coitus with Orgasm 

Before 

1900 

1900- 

1909 

1910— 

1919 

1920- 

1929 

None 

23 

17 

12 

12 

1-29 

14 

15 

13 

14 

30-59 

14 

13 

16 

19 

60-89 

12 

13 

17 

19 

90-100 

37 

42 

42 

36 

Number of cases 

302 

489 

528 

130 


27. Ibid., p. 355. 

28. See Judson T. Landis, “The Women 
Kinsey Studied, “George Simpson, 
“Nonsense about Women,” and A. H. 
Maslow and James M. Sakoda, “Volunteer 
Error in the Kinsey Study,” in Sexual 
Behavior in American Society. 

29. Ernest W. Burgess and Leonard S. 
Cottrell, Jr., Predicting Success or Failure 
in Marriage , New York, 1939, p. 271. 

30. A. C. Kinsey, et al. f Sexual Behavior in 
the Human Female , p. 403. 

31. Sylvan Keiser, “Body Ego During 
Orgasm,” Psychoanalytic Quarterly , 1952, 
Vol. XXI, pp. 153—166: 

Individuals of this group are 
characterized by failure to develop adequate 
egos failure to develop adequate egos. Their 
anxious devotion to, and lavish care of, their 
bodies belies the inner feelings of 
hollowness and inadequacy.... These 
patients have little sense of their own 











identity and are always ready to take on the 
personality of someone else. They have few 
personal convictions, and yield readily to 
the opinions of others.... It is chiefly among 
such patients that coitus can be enjoyed 
only up to the point of orgasm.... They 
dared not allow themselves uninhibited 
progression to orgasm with its concomitant 
loss of control, loss of awareness of the 
body, or death.... In instances of uncertainty 
about the structure and boundaries of the 
body image, one might say that the skin 
does not serve as an envelope which sharply 
defines the transition from the self to the 
environment; the one gradually merges into 
the other; there is no assurance of being a 
distinct entity endowed with the strength to 
give of itself without endangering one’s own 
integrity. 

32. Lawrence Kubie, “Psychiatric 
Implications of the Kinsey Report,” in 
Sexual Behavior in American Society , pp. 
270 ff: 

This simple biologic aim is overlaid by 
many subtle goals of which the individual 
himself is usually unaware. Some of these 
are attainable; some are not. Where the 
majority are attainable, then the end result 


of sexual activity is an afterglow of peaceful 
completion and satisfaction. Where, 
however, the unconscious goals are 
unattainable, then whether orgasm has 
occurred or not, there remains a post-coital 
state of unsated need, and sometimes of 
fear, rage or depression. 

33. Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and Society , 
pp. 239—283, 367—380. See also Erich 
Fromm, Escape from Freedom and Man for 
Himself and David Riesman, The Lonely 
Crowd. 

34. See Alva Myrdal and Viola Klein 

( Women’s Two Roles), who point out that 
the number of American women now 
working outside the home seems greater 
than it is because the base from which the 
comparison is usually made was unusually 
small: a century ago the proportion of 
American women working outside the home 
was far smaller than in the European 
countries. In other words, the woman 
problem in America was probably unusually 
severe because the displacement of 
American women from essential work and 
identity in society was far more drastic— 
primarily because of the extremely rapid 
growth and industrialization of the 







American economy. The women who had 
grown with the men in the frontier days 
were banished almost overnight to 
anomie —which is a very expressive 
sociological name for that sense of non¬ 
existence or non-identity suffered by one 
who has no real place in society—when the 
important work left the home, where they 
stayed. In contrast, in France where 
industrialization was slower, and farms and 
small family-size shops are still fairly 
important in the economy, women a century 
ago still worked in large numbers—in field 
and shop—and today the majority of French 
women are not full-time housewives in the 
American sense of the mystique, for an 
enormous number still work in the fields, in 
addition to that one out of three who, as in 
America, work in industry, sales, offices, 
and professions. The growth of women in 
France has much more closely paralleled the 
growth of the society, since the proportion 
of French women in the professions has 
doubled in fifty years. It is interesting to 
note that the feminine mystique does not 
prevail in France, to the extent that it does 
here; there is a legitimate image in France of 
a feminine career woman and feminine 



intellectual, and French men seem 
responsive to women sexually, without 
equating femininity either with glorified 
emptiness or that man-eating castrative 
mom. Nor has the family been weakened— 
in actuality or mystique—by women’s work 
in industry and profession. Myrdal and 
Klein show that the French career women 
continue to have children—but not the great 
number the new educated American 
housewives produce. 

35. Sidney Ditzion, Marriage, Morals and 
Sex in America, A History of Ideas , New 
York, 1953, p. 277. 

36. William James, Psychology , New York, 
1892, p. 458. 

Chapter 14. A NEW LIFE PLAN FOR 
WOMEN 

L See “Mother’s Choice: Manager or 
Martyr,” and “For a Mother’s Hour,” New 
York Times Magazine , January 14, 1962, 
and March 18, 1962. 

2* The sense that work has to be “real,” and 
not just “therapy” or busywork, to provide a 
basis for identity becomes increasingly 
explicit in the theories of the self, even 







when there is no specific reference to 
women. Thus, in defining the beginnings of 
“identity” in the child, Erikson says in 
Childhood and Society (p. 208): 

The growing child must, at every step, 
derive a vitalizing sense of reality from the 
awareness that his individual way of 
mastering experience (his ego synthesis) is a 
successful variant of a group identity and is 
in accord with its space-time and life plan. 

In this children cannot be fooled by 
empty praise and condescending 
encouragement. They may have to accept 
artificial bolstering of their self-esteem in 
lieu of something better, but their ego 
identity gains real strength only from 
wholehearted and consistent recognition of 
real accomplishment—i.e., of achievement 
that has meaning in the culture. 

T Nanette E. Scofield,’ some Changing Roles 
of Women in Suburbia: A Social 
Anthropological Case Study,” transactions 
of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 
22, 6, April, 1960. 

A Polly Weaver, “What’s Wrong with 
Ambition?” Mademoiselle , September, 

1956. 

Y Edna G. Rostow, “The Best of Both 



Worlds,” Yale Review, March, 1962. 

(L Ida Fisher Davidoff and May Elish 
Markewich, “The Postparental Phase in the 
Life Cycle of Fifty College-Educated 
Women,” unpublished doctoral study, 
Teachers College, Columbia University, 
1961. These fifty educated women had been 
full-time housewives and mothers 
throughout the years their children were in 
school. With the last child’s departure, the 
women suffering severe distress because 
they had no deep interest beyond the home 
included a few whose actual ability and 
achievement were high; these women had 
been leaders in community work, but they 
felt like “phonies,” “frauds,” earning respect 
for “work a ten-year-old could do.” The 
authors” own orientation in the functional- 
adjustment school makes them deplore the 
fact that education gave these women 
“unrealistic” goals (a surprising number, 
now in their fifties and sixties, still wished 
they had been doctors). However, those 
women who had pursued interests—which 
in every case had begun in college—and 
were working now in jobs or politics or art, 
did not feel like “phonies,” or even suffer 
the expected distress at menopause. Despite 




the distress of those who lacked such 
interests, none of them, after the child¬ 
bearing years were over, wanted to go back 
to school; there were simply too few years 
left to justify the effort. So they continued 
“woman’s role” by acting as mothers to their 
own aged parents or by finding pets, plants, 
or simply “people as my hobby” to take the 
place of their children. 

The interpretation of the two family-life 
educators—who themselves became 
professional marriage counselors in middle 
age—is interesting: 

For those women in our group who had 
high aspirations or high intellectual 
endowment or both, the discrepancy 
between some of the values stressed in our 
success-and-achievement oriented society 
and the actual opportunities open to the 
older, untrained women was especially 
disturbing.... The door open to the woman 
with a skill was closed to the one without 
training, even if she was tempted to try to 
find a place for herself among the gainfully 
employed. The reality hazards of the work 
situation seemed to be recognized by most, 
however. They felt neither prepared for the 
kind of job which might appeal to them, nor 



willing to take the time and expend the 
energy which would be required for 
training, in view of the limited number of 
active years ahead.... The lack of pressure 
resulting from reduced responsibility had to 
be handled.... As the primary task of 
motherhood was finished, the satisfactions 
of volunteer work, formerly a secondary 
outlet, seemed to be diminishing.... The 
cultural activities of the suburbs were 
limited. “Even in the city, adult education’ 
seemed to be “busy work,” leading 
nowhere.... 

Thus, some women expressed certain 
regrets: “It is too late to develop a new skill 
leading to a career.” “If I had pursued a 
single line, it would have utilized my 
potential to the full.” But the authors note 
with approval that “the vast majority have 
somehow adjusted themselves to their place 
in society.” 

Because our culture demands of women 
certain renunciations of activity and limits 
her scope of participation in the stream of 
life, at this point being a woman would 
seem to be an advantage rather than a 
handicap. All her life, as a female, she had 
been encouraged to be sensitive to the 



feelings and needs of others. Her life, at 
strategic points, had required denials of self. 
She had had ample opportunities for “dress 
rehearsals” for this latest renunciation” of a 
long series of renunciations begun early in 
life. Her whole life as a woman had been 
giving her a skill which she was now free to 
use to the full without further preparation... 

L Nevitt Sanford, “Personality Development 
During the College Years,” Journal of 
Social Issues , 1956, Vol. 12, No. 4, p. 36. 

iL The public flurry in the spring of 1962 over 
the sexual virginity of Vassar girls is a case 
in point. The real question, for the educator, 
would seem to me to be whether these girls 
were getting from their education the 
serious lifetime goals only education can 
give them. If they are, they can be trusted to 
be responsible for their sexual behavior. 
President B landing indeed defied the 
mystique to say boldly that if girls are not in 
college for education, they should not be 
there at all. That her statement caused such 
an uproar is evidence of the extent of sex- 
directed education. 

SL The impossibility of part-time study of 
medicine, science, and law, and of part-time 
graduate work in the top universities has 


kept many women of high ability from 
attempting it. But in 1962, the Harvard 
Graduate School of Education let down this 
barrier to encourage more able housewives 
to become teachers. A plan was also 
announced in New York to permit women 
doctors to do their psychiatric residencies 
and postgraduate work on a part-time basis, 
taking into account their maternal 
responsibilities. 

10. Virginia L. Senders, “The Minnesota Plan 
for Women’s Continuing Education,” in 
“Unfinished Business—Continuing 
Education for Women,” The Educational 
Record , American Council on Education, 
October, 1961, pp. 10 ff. 

11. Mary Bunting, “The Radcliffe Institute 
for Independent Study,” Ibid., pp. 19 ff. 
Radcliffe’s president reflects the feminine 
mystique when she deplores “the use the 
first college graduates made of their 
advanced educations. Too often and 
understandably, they became crusaders and 
reformers, passionate, fearless, articulate, 
but also, at times, loud. A stereotype of the 
educated women grew up in the popular 
mind and concurrently, a prejudice against 
both the stereotype and the education.” 





Similarly she states: 

That we have not made any respectable 
attempt to meet the special educational 
needs of women in the past is the clearest 
possible evidence of the fact that our 
educational objectives have been geared 
exclusively to the vocational patterns of 
men. In changing that emphasis, however, 
our goal should not be to equip and 
encourage women to compete with men.... 
Women, because they are not generally the 
principal breadwinners, can be perhaps most 
useful as the trail blazers, working along the 
bypaths, doing the unusual job that men 
cannot afford to gamble on. There is always 
room on the fringes even when competition 
in the intellectual market places is keen. 

That women use their education today 
primarily “on the fringes” is a result of the 
feminine mystique, and of the prejudices 
against women it masks; it is doubtful 
whether these remaining barriers will ever 
be overcome if even educators are going to 
discourage able women from becoming 
“crusaders and reformers, passionate, 
fearless, articulate,”—and loud enough to 
be heard. 

12. Time , November, 1961. See also 




“Housewives at the $2 Window,” New York 
Times Magazine , April 1, 1962, which 
describes how babysitting services and 
“clinics” for suburban housewives are now 
being offered at the race tracks. 

13. See remarks of State Assemblywoman 
Dorothy Bell Lawrence, Republican, of 
Manhattan, reported in the New York Times , 
May 8, 1962. The first woman to be elected 
a Republican district leader in New York 
City, she explained: “I was doing all the 
work, so I told the county chairman that I 
wanted to be chairman. He told me it was 
against the rules for a woman to hold the 
post, but then he changed the rules.” In the 
Democratic “reform” movement in New 
York, women are also beginning to assume 
leadership posts commensurate with their 
work, and the old segregated “ladies” 
auxiliaries” and “women’s committees” are 
beginning to go. 

14. Among more than a few women I 
interviewed who had, as the mystique 
advises, completely renounced their own 
ambitions to become wives and mothers, I 
noticed a repeated history of miscarriages. 

In several cases, only after the woman 
finally resumed the work she had given up, 




or went back to graduate school, was she 
able to carry to term the long-desired second 
or third child. 

15. American women’s life expectancy—75 
years—is the longest of women anywhere in 
the world. But as Myrdal and Klein point 
out in Women’s Two Roles , there is 
increasing recognition that, in human 
beings, chronological age differs from 
biological age: “at the chronological age of 
70, the divergencies in biological age may 
be as wide as between the chronological 
ages of 50 and 90.” The new studies of 
aging in humans indicate that those who 
have the most education and who live the 
most complex and active lives, with deep 
interests and readiness for new experience 
and learning, do not get “old” in the sense 
that others do. A close study of 300 
biographies (See Charlotte Buhler, “The 
Curve of Life as Studied in Biographies,” 
Journal of Applied Psychology , XIX, 
August, 1935, pp. 405 ff.) reveals that in the 
latter half of life, the person’s productivity 
becomes independent of his biological 
equipment, and, in fact, is often at a higher 
level than his biological efficiency— that is, 
if the person has emerged from biological 






living. Where “spiritual factors” dominated 
activity, the highest point of productivity 
came in the latter part of life; where 
“physical facts” were decisive in the life of 
an individual, the high point was reached 
earlier and the psychological curve was then 
more closely comparable to the biological. 
The study of educated women cited above 
revealed much less suffering at menopause 
than is considered “normal” in America 
today. Most of these women whose horizons 
had not been confined to physical 
housekeeping and their biological role, did 
not, in their fifties and sixties feel “old.” 
Many reported in surprise that they suffered 
much less discomfort at menopause than 
their mothers” experience had led them to 
expect. Therese Benedek suggests (in 
“Climacterium: A Developmental Phase,” 
Psychoanalytical Quarterly , XIX, 1950, p. 
1) that the lessened discomfort, and burst of 
creative energy many women now 
experience at menopause, is at least in part 
due to the “emancipation” of women. 
Kinsey’s figures seem to indicate that 
women who have by education been 
emancipated from purely biological living, 
experience the full peak of sexual 



fulfillment much later in life than had been 
expected, and in fact, continue to 
experience it through the forties and past 
menopause. Perhaps the best example of 
this phenomenon is Colette—that truly 
human, emancipated French woman who 
lived and loved and wrote with so little 
deference to her chronological age that she 
said on her eightieth birthday: “If only one 
were 58, because at that time one is still 
desired and full of hope for the future.” 



THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE 


Betty Friedan 

READING GROUP GUIDE 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 


1. “[T]he image by which modern American women live also 
leave[s] something out.... This image—created by the 
women’s magazines, by advertisements, television, 
movies, novels, columns and books, by experts on marriage 
and the family, child psychology, sexual adjustment and by 
the popularizers of s